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Plant disease: 7. Mineral nutrient deficiency in plants

The consequences of lacking vital nutrients e.g. nitrogen-nitrate ion, iron, potassium and magnesium ions, phosphorus-phosphate ions

Doc Brown's Biology exam study revision notes: There are various sections to work through, after 1 they can be read and studied in any order.

INDEX of Plant Disease Notes


(7) Mineral deficiency in plants and its consequences of lacking vital nutrients

Nitrogen for amino acids and protein synthesis (including enzymes) is obtained from the nitrate ion (NO3-).

Lack of nitrogen gives stunted growth.

The magnesium ion (Mg2+) is required by the chlorophyll molecule to function in photosynthesis and is also essential for the metabolism of carbohydrates.

 If a plant is deficient in magnesium not enough chlorophyll can be made and the plant suffers from chlorosis - a yellowing of the leaves, and photosynthesis is much reduced - as is the supply of food and energy for the plant.

The potassium ion (K+) is involved in the mechanism for opening and closing stomata, the activation of some enzymes, involved in photosynthesis, and the production of ATP in respiration.

Phosphorus, from phosphate ions. A phosphate structure is part of the ATP molecule from respiration - energy source, and part of the structure of a nucleotide of which cellular DNA and RNA and made.

Iron ions (e.g. Fe2+ or Fe3+) are important in the synthesis of chlorophyll and some enzyme functions.

You can also get chlorosis in plants from iron deficiency. (see magnesium above)

Soil that is deficient in any of these minerals can be improved by using synthetic artificial fertilisers (NPK types for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) often supplemented with lots of additives to supply other trace elements like iron or magnesium that plants need. You must compost or manure if you are a true organic gardener!


Keywords, phrases and learning objectives for this part on plant diseases and nutritional deficiency

Know, understand and be able to describe examples of plants weakened or diseased by lack of important essential nutrients, usually from mineral ions.

Know that chlorosis is an example of mineral deficiency in plants consequences from lack of vital nutrients, yellow leaves from lacking in nitrogen-nitrate ion, and lack of iron, potassium and magnesium ions, phosphorus-phosphate ions cause problems, some deficiencies can be remedied by the application of NPK fertilisers, but in other cases specialised mineral products need to be added to the soil.


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