Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Nitrogenomics: Is the term worth science?


Anyone searching the internet for the term 'nitrogenomics', chances are that you will be taken to a page describing,

Nitrogenomics as the branch of the study of genomics pertaining to nitrogen utilisation and assimilation in organisms. Nitrogen is a primary nutrient essential for sustaining the life of every organism. Nitrogen is freely available in the atmosphere and Earth's crust and is generally assimilated by plants and microorganisms, then moved to higher organisms through the food chain. Genomics of nitrogen assimilation lie at different levels of organisms, from microbes to higher organisms, where different genetic controls regulate the actual assimilation.

This term nitrogenomics was not available before April 2004, when I made the posting of this term for the first time in Wikipedia. The growing awareness of genomic sciences and their enormous application potential, led me to think of a specialised term for the molecular genetics and genomics of the nitrogen utilisation in the organic world. It rather amused me that the words 'nitrogen' and 'genomics' fused well. Though I coined the term without much thinking of its potential as a branch of science, I now feel that the science which is described within this term can be the science of life itself.

Nitrogen is as essential as carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in the organic world, as it forms the primary component of amino acids which makes proteins, the building and guiding blocks of organic life. But the most intriguing part of the story is that nitrogen is not freely available as in the case of other primary elements of life. In fact it is mostly available abundantly in the unavailable forms. So how then nitrogen comes into life? Its an intricate cycle that involves enormous microorganisms, entire plant kingdom and the whole animal kingdom or every living organisms in interaction with the forces of nature! The science behind this is immense.

I learned the indispensable requisiteness of this science when I started working on the genome mapping of nitrogen assimilation genes in our staple food crop, rice. By this time, more than one and a half centuries had passed since we started adding nitrogen fertilisers into agriculture. More and more nitrogen added gave more and more food grains, enabling us to feed millions of mouths that were born in the world. Indiscriminate fertiliser usage had started to take its toll through irreversible damage to the ecosystems, nitrate poisoning, eutrophication of the water bodies so on and so forth... How are we going to cope up to this situation? One way is by regulating the usage of inorganic nitrogen sources while we look for better living environment with sufficiency of food. Here we require the science I am talking of....nitrogenomics. I am convinced...are you?