Phosphorus: A limiting nutrient for humanity?

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Phosphorus is a chemical element that is essential to life because of its role in numerous key molecules, including DNA and RNA; indeed, organisms require large amounts of P to grow rapidly. However, the supply of P from the environment is often limiting to production, including to crops. Thus, large amounts of P are mined annually to produce fertilizer that is applied in support of the 'Green Revolution.' However, much of this fertilizer eventually ends up in rivers, lakes and oceans where it causes costly eutrophication. Furthermore, given increasing human population, expanding meat consumption, and proliferating bioenergy pressures, concerns have recently been raised about the long-term geological, economic, and geopolitical viability of mined P for fertilizer production. Together, these issues highlight the non-sustainable nature of current human P use. To achieve P sustainability, farms need to become more efficient in how they use P while society as a whole must develop technologies and practices to recycle P from the food chain. Such large-scale changes will probably require a radical restructuring of the entire food system, highlighting the need for prompt but sustained action.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)833-838
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Opinion in Biotechnology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2012


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