Elemental Shortage

By Brendan Borrell ELEMENTAL SHORTAGE The world is running out of cheap phosphorus, the element that lies at the heart of great agricultural advances and thorny environmental problems. Biologists are only now beginning to understand what it means for evolution and human health. James Elser at a study site in southern Norway Although a limnologist in Phoenix and a molecular biologist in Atlanta have never met before, a single element ties them together.

Brendan Borrell
Nov 1, 2010

ELEMENTAL SHORTAGE

The world is running out of cheap phosphorus, the element that lies at the heart of great agricultural advances and thorny environmental problems. Biologists are only now beginning
to understand what it means for evolution and human health.

James Elser at a study site in southern Norway

Although a limnologist in Phoenix and a molecular biologist in Atlanta have never met before, a single element ties them together.

James Elser works at Arizona State University and studies aquatic life in lakes and streams. He has developed a fascination for the evolution of life from its earliest beginnings and worries about the damage an overabundance of phosphorus has done to our ecosystems and how its looming depletion will affect our lives.

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1 Even if global supplies stretch for the next 300 to 400 years, as the phosphate industry contends, the most easily processed rocks are in ever-shorter...

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