Biogenic elements: what are they, types and functions?
Biogenic elements are fundamental components for life to exist.
All living beings on Earth are composed of organic matter. The basic structures that make up the different taxa (both animals and plants as well as microscopic organisms) are cellulose, tannin, cutin and lignin, together with other proteins, lipids and sugars that build tissues and cell coverings. All this matter is not created as such out of nothing, but is transformed through the energy flows of biogeochemical cycles.
Plants transform waste and inorganic matter into organic tissues from solar energy (photosynthesis), herbivores consume enormous quantities of this matter and then the tissue generated is passed on to higher levels of the food chain, such as carnivores and superpredators. When a living being dies, its tissues decompose into matter and nutrients, which again become part of the plant vascular system through root absorption, thus closing the cycle.
In this way, we demonstrate with a series of general brushstrokes how organic matter and energy fluctuate in the different stratifications of an ecosystem. However, to understand the functioning of living beings we must delve into a much more microscopic level, of atoms and molecules. Join us on this journey through the biogenetic biogenic elementsThe key to life is to be found in them.
What is a biogenic element?
The etymological root of the word itself can help us to introduce this term. In Greek, bio means life and genesis origin. Thus, it is easy to assume that the biogenic element is that which allows life, forming part of the tissues and/or metabolic pathways of living beings. Although the living matter of the world is composed of about 25-30 biogenic elements, only 8 of them are the most dominant and widespread across taxa..
At this point, it should be noted that a chemical element is a type of matter made up of atoms of the same class, with a given number of nuclear protons in their simplest form. There are a total of 118 chemical elements on Earth, of which 26 have been obtained under laboratory conditions. Of the remaining 92, only 27 are considered bioelements (or biogenic elements, interchangeable terms). They are classified as follows:
- Primary bioelements: they make up 96% of all living matter on Earth. Without them, existence on this planet would be inconceivable.
- Secondary bioelements: make up 3.9% of living matter.
- Trace elements: also known as temporary bioelements, as their concentrations vary over time. They account for 0.1% of total living matter.
What are the most important types of biogenic elements?
As we have said, the primary bioelements make up almost all the matter we know. Therefore, we are going to focus on the 6 biogenic elements par excellence (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur), and then take a brief look at the secondary bioelements and trace elements. Don't miss it.
1. Carbon (C)
Carbon is the bioelement or biogenic element par excellence. It is estimated that the Earth harbors 550 billion tons (550 Gt) of carbon on its surface, of which 450 Gt (450 Gt) are in the atmosphere.of which 450 Gt (80%) is stored in plant matter. Forests are not only the lungs of the planet, but also the primary energy reserve, in the form of plant biomass. After this group, it is worth noting that bacteria contribute about 70 Gt to the earth's surface, despite their individual microscopic biomass.
As abundant as we are, it is incredible to learn that human populations account for only 0.06 Gt of the total planetary organic carbon. Paradoxically, this is the second most present element in our organism (up to 20%), second only to the oxygen that flows through all our veins, arteries and Blood capillaries.
2. Oxygen (O)
Measured on the basis of its total mass, oxygen is the third most abundant chemical element on Earth, surpassed only by helium (He) and hydrogen (H). However, it is the most abundant if the limit is circumscribed to the Earth's crust, since it makes up about half of its mass.
Proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, lipids and water contain oxygen, so it becomes indispensable for the construction of complex organic matter.. In addition, water (H2O) uses this biogenic element as a building block. Without O2, we are nothing.
3. Hydrogen (H)
Hydrogen (H) is the first element of the periodic table with good reason: it is the most abundant biogenic element on Earth, accounting for 75% of all visible mass in the universe.. We are moving in figures incomprehensible to the human mind, but it is clear to us that almost everything present in the corporeal plane is, to a greater or lesser extent, hydrogen.
Hydrogen is not only part of living matter, but is an element found in abundance in the stars and gaseous planets. Under normal conditions, this biogenic element is in the form of diatomic gas (H2).
4. Nitrogen (N)
Nitrogen makes up 78% of atmospheric air, making it the major component of the Earth's atmosphere. Within living organisms, this element is essential for the formation of amino acids and nucleic acids.. The former give rise to the proteins of all solid living tissues, while the latter are responsible for forming DNA and RNA.
Furthermore, nitrogen cycles in ecosystems are considered the most important, as this biogenic element is the most conducive to plant growth under the right conditions. Without nitrogen, events as diverse as biological inheritance or dense forests would be impossible.
5. Phosphorus (P)
Phosphorus is another essential element for life, although it is found in smaller proportion than the rest in the gross computation of the earth's mass.
The phosphate group (of which it is a part) is essential for the synthesis of DNA and RNA, so, as with nitrogen, it is thanks to it that genetic inheritance takes place.. It is also part of the lipid bilayer, the membrane that separates cells from the surrounding organic or inorganic environment.
6. Sulfur (S)
Sulfur is another of the biogenic elements essential to understanding life. It is part of the amino acids cysteine and methionine and is therefore necessary for life. and is therefore necessary for protein synthesis in all living things on the planet.
7. Secondary biogenic elements
Based on their concentrations in the tissues of living beings, these elements are considered secondary at the pure mass level, but equally important for the maintenance of existence. This group includes potassium, calcium, chlorine, magnesium and iron, among others. For example, calcium is one of the essential elements for the formation of bone tissue in living beings, calcium is one of the essential elements for the formation of bone tissue in living beings, since 99% of an organism's Ca is in the bone system.99% of an organism's Ca is in the bone system.
8. Trace elements
Although they represent only 0.1% of vital organic matter, trace elements are also necessary for life in small quantities. These include cobalt, fluorine, chromium, copper, silicon, iodine and zinc, among others.. It should be noted that their absence in the body can be lethal, but their excessive presence can also be lethal. In atypical concentrations, they can cause liver toxicity.
As you can see, living beings are nothing more than atoms and elements invisible to the human eye, which are organized in a more or less complex way to give rise to all the life we know. Human beings are almost 20% carbon, 60% water and, the remaining percentage (up to 99%), the other biogenic elements mentioned above. If any of them did not exist, the tissue organization that characterizes us would be impossible.
From the chromosomes of a cell to the Amazon forests, every level of living organization passes through the 6 main biogenic elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur. In the end, at the microscopic and basal level, every living being is reduced to the same thing.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)