From chemistry to current events: The six macronutrients that make up a plant (N, P, K, Mg, S & Ca)

In the second of three Teaching Tools in Plant Biology spanning the topic of Plant Nutrition, we examine how macronutrients affect plant growth. Specifically, we look at (1) the availability of nutrients in the soil along with the effects of soil microbes and physical properties on their availability; (2) nutrient uptake from the external environment, across plasma membranes and into plant cells; (3) in some cases, the assimilation of the nutrient into organic molecules; (4) the distribution and redistribution of nutrients throughout the plant; and (5) regulation of these processes. In parallel, we examine the genetic basis of a plant’s nutrient use efficiency (NUE) and evaluate strategies by which to replenish nutrients that growing plants extract from soil.


Much of the discussion concerns the mechanisms by which nutrients enter, move through and are used by the plant, but the very important considerations about the impacts of chemically-synthesized fertilizers are also addressed. An extensive set of discussion questions to stimulate inquiry are included in the teaching guide. TTPB30MacronutrientsTTPB30Macronutrientsb

2 thoughts on “From chemistry to current events: The six macronutrients that make up a plant (N, P, K, Mg, S & Ca)”

  1. Hi Mary,

    While I was a student I often remember asking myself “so what if plants need these nutrients, I do too”. I always thought if somebody could explain the relationship of plant physiology and its impact on other lives. I think this teaching tool comes in handy to educators like me and many others who try their their best to make plant biology more like-able to their students. This comes in at the right time as we are witnessing the emergence of plant produced energy. Overall, this teaching tool does a great job of educating young minds about the significance of plants in our daily lives.

    (these thoughts are based on the material shared here, I was unable to look at the power points)

  2. Hi Anjali,
    Thanks, and I agree, this is a really important topic that affects eveyone, not only those who study plants. I hope you can get ahold of the materials by joining ASPB or through an institutional subscription to The Plant Cell!


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