The Nutrient Buffer Power Concept
by K P Prabhakaran Nair on 19 Mar 2013 1 Comment

In a previous article on the subject of media hype over Bt Cotton, a reader asked me to explain the importance of the nutrient buffer power concept, which is the writer’s real contribution to agricultural science, and to specifically address how alien technology/genes adversely impact soil nutrition balance. The crux of the issue, which he correctly identified, is that there is a link between the destruction of nutrient buffer power and the ability of alien genes to prevent the uptake of certain vital minerals (such as magnesium, for instance) and thus critically impact soil health and animal health.


As far as plant nutrition is concerned, one has to understand that in the final analysis it is the plant and the plant alone that decides whether or not a specific nutrient present in the soil is ‘available’ to the plant root, or not.


In over three decades of research in Europe, Africa, and Asia, the writer has struggled to give a precise meaning to the term ‘available’ many a time referred to as nutrient availability by agricultural scientists). The outcome of the arduous research has given birth to The Nutrient Buffer Power Concept. It essentially involves much thermodynamics, which even scientists often fail to understand.


The pertinent point here is that an alien gene in a plant cell (genetic engineering) may adversely impact the concentration of a specific nutrient on its roots, and it is the mean concentration of this specific nutrient on the surface of the root that decides its uptake process. The proponents of the green revolution in India underestimated the ability of the plant to maintain this mean concentration, which is where the soil comes in.


For decades, agricultural scientists the world over acted with a Baconian mentality. They worked either with soils or with plants, in isolation. But, as an act of divine grace, I thought of combining both, and that led to the revolutionary concept. It is so simple and obvious, yet nowhere before in the history of agricultural science did anyone come up with such an idea.


One great worry to date is that all these Bt fraudsters have not answered my basic question – what happens to a soil in which a Bt cotton plant grows, say, adjacent to one where a native variety grows? No one has bothered to reply to such a fundamental question. It is almost like working in the dark. That is why I call GM a half-baked science.


And what happens in a ribo nuclic acid (rna) mediated) protein configuration within the plant cell? When dealing with bio technology, one has to tread the path very very carefully. A biological reaction cannot be explained simply on the basis of “cause and effect” as in the case of a physical phenomenon. For instance, there is an inverse relationship between temperature and pressure. This relationship can simply be explained on the basis of a linear regression, where one dependent and another independent parameter can lead to a correlation coefficient of a certain statistical significance (normally explained on the basis of percentage predictability, where the symbol ‘r’ is denoted).


The most unpardonable mistake the so-called biological ‘scientists’ make is to take shelter under this cover while explaining some of the phenomena they study. There are umpteen numbers of such stupidities in published ‘scientific’ literature and mostly they go either unnoticed or unchallenged. In the case of Bt cotton, the plant breeders have taken recourse to rna-mediated changes.


In our human system also we have comparable reactions. Why does a healthy human being develop carcinogenic cells or what are called as tumour cells? For a human cell to normally function, it has to wait for a signal emanating from the brain cell. When the normal cell receives a ‘garbled’ message from the brain cell it gets confused and does not know what to do. Benign mutations can occur; the trouble starts when the mutation becomes malignant. All these changes are rna -mediated. In fact, they are called ‘messenger rnas’. That is the reason a Bt chrysanthemum can change its colour totally by midday (as this author observed some years ago in Germany). The consequences can be entirely unpredictable. This is the biggest rub against Bt technology which none of its proponents are prepared to admit, mounting scientific evidence notwithstanding.    


Then, almost everyone talks of the plant, but no one speaks about what could or could not happen to the soil system.


The soil is a living organism by itself, so very dynamic in nature, and this is the reason why when speaking at an important conference in Europe some decades ago, I designated soil as The Soul Of Infinite Life. At the time, many ‘scientists’ laughed when I used the term ‘Soul’ for Soil, and now they all are eating their words. Soil is alive, though not in the silly sense that some want to understand it. Surely scientists should be able to understand that a plant does not grow in space; it can grow in the soil only because the soil is alive and can supply it with nutrition.


The crucial importance of soil, not merely for agriculture, but for the very sustenance of life on this planet has been grossly underestimated. Take this simple fact of life. We have a lot of water in the soil when it rains, and even in rainfed areas when the soil surface is dry, beneath we have moisture. How does it come about? If we take a spoonful of soil, any soil for that matter, it contains different particles of different sizes. The minutest particle is the clay fraction (which ranges from 0 to 2 micron), next comes silt (it can vary from 2 micron to 20 micron or 50 micron, depending on the soil classification that Pedologists use, silt fraction can be sub divided into 2-20 micron, 20-50 micron, 50-100 micron, 100-200 micron, 100-200 micron, 200-500 micron, 500-1000 micron, so on) and then comes the most coarse fraction sand (anything above 2000 micron).


Except for the minutest particle clay, none of the other particles hold an electrical charge. The clay particle has an excess of negative charge. And it is this excess negative charge that attracts a water molecule (H2O – two hydrogen atoms, which are positively charged and one oxygen atom which is negatively charged). Thus a chain of water molecules is held to the clay fraction, the first bonding being the clay surface and the hydrogen atom followed by the oxygen atom and then again a hydrogen atom and continuation of this chain. But for this electrical bonding we will not have any water in the earth, no matter how much it rains. I consider this divine grace and have explained the above example only to illustrate how important soil is. Yet humans in their arrogance and lack of wisdom have treated soil as an “Inert” material, and that is at the centre of all the catastrophes we experience not merely in agriculture, but in many other spheres. This is the very beauty of life on planet earth. From soil we come and to soil we return – all religions aver this fundamental truth in different ways.


It is also important to realise that all the chemical/microbial/physical and physico-chemical reactions also take place at the very surface of the negatively charged clay particle. I have delved into this fundamental truth of nature to understand how a soil can regulate nutrient supply.       


It was at this same conference, the International Colloquium on Plant Nutrition, in Montpellier, France, 1984, that I presented a paper on The Nutrient Buffer Power Concept. It was received very well and I was named to the National Chair of the Science Foundation, The Royal Society, Belgium, though that is all history now.


See also: A decade of Bt hype!

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