Modern Biology
Muscle Disease Gene Identified in Fish
Bird Flu Mutation Risk
Platelets Help Tackle Bacteria
Untangling The Model Muddle
Cloning - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Unpacking the Human Genome Project
Does a Hot Mint Still Taste Cold?
Do Bald Men get all the Girls?
Why Plants Make Caffeine
Turning your Brain into Blood - How Stem Cells Work
The Microchimera Mixture
Forgetful Flies - A tale of two halves (of the brain)
The Smelly World of Mice and Men!
How animals develop from an embryo
Ricin : The Secret Assassin
Why drink Wine ?
Genetically Modified (GM) Plants
Big Fish, Little Sea
Something in the Air
What's On The Menu ?
What is the purpose of sexual reproduction?
Therapeutic Cloning, and Stem Cell Research
What is Living in my Mouth?
Genes for Bigger Brains
  Bigfoot: The Nitrogen Problem
Bigfoot is the stuff of legends - a large, hairy, man-like creature that hides in the woods or high in a mountainous cave. Some believe he is a spiritual guide or an “elder brother” sent to watch over us and warn us of our miss-doings. There are active groups who post sightings of this mythical being on websites and assemble to search for clues of his existence. But what if they are looking in the wrong place? Looking for the wrong creature? Looking for the wrong footprint?

I would argue that real bigfoot is the collective impact of human actions that have led to the doubling of amount of nitrogen cycling on earth. Together we leave behind a trail of environmental destruction that could rival any large track you might imagine. In the past three essays we explored the importance of nitrogen, how humans have altered the amount of it cycling in the biosphere, and some of the negative environmental changes that occur when excess nitrogen enters coastal systems. Now, I want to tell you about the top two ways you can reduce your nitrogen footprint.


First: you can make an impact by simply eating less meat. Nitrogen (N) pollution is largely driven by our consumptive habits. In fact, there is a strong correlation between a country’s wealth and their use of fertiliser, and between income and per-capita protein consumption (Nixon 1995). Protein consumption is important because it provides the nitrogen in our diets that we ultimately excrete into the environment. And while there are important cultural factors that dictate the types and amounts of meat consumed, the general global pattern is that meat consumption increases with wealth (Nixon and Fulweiler 2009).

Of course, the meat we consume, and the nitrogen we excrete in waste, is not the only concern. Another important problem is that our agricultural practices, in general, and the production of meat in particular, are remarkably inefficient. Of the 170 million metric tons of nitrogen (the equivalent of more than one and a half million blue whales) humans apply to cropland, only 12% actually ends up in our mouths (Galloway et al. 2003). In other words, it takes 100 kg (220 lbs) of nitrogen in corn to produce 5 kg (11 lbs) of edible nitrogen in beef — but the remaining 95 kg of nitrogen is lost to the surrounding environment (Nixon and Fulweiler 2009).

A recent analysis reported that the excess nitrogen in the environment costs the European Union between 100 and 460 billion Euros per year (Sutton et al. 2011). You needn’t go vegetarian, although that would help! Because by simply eating smaller portions of meat, or cutting back on the number of days each week you consume meat, you will decrease your nitrogen footprint.


Second: consume less energy. All of the nitrogen involved in energy production is lost to the environment. While you can’t alter how electricity is generated, you can change how you use it. Turn off your lights, buy energy efficient appliances, unplug electronics when not in use. To lessen the nitrogen release during the burning of fossil fuels simply turn down your heat in the winter and lower your air conditioning in the summer. Take public transportation or, better still, walk or bike to work: exercise and an environmental benefit rolled into one.

Key to success is that we convince our friends, family, maybe even the person next to us on the train to make these changes too. Individual actions are important but it is the sum of these actions that will deliver the most significant impact. Become the real stuff of legends. Become an environmental steward of our fragile coastlines and feel empowered — you can help create a sustainable future for all life on Earth...
Bigfoot: The Nitrogen Problem
A Traveller's Guide to Bed Bugs
A spider web's strength lies in more than its silk
Thai police bust Bangkok rare wildlife 'butchers'
Castaway lizards provide insight into elusive evolutionary process
Bouquet bargains trade off for life
18 endangered dolphins spotted off Borneo: WWF
Tiny primate 'talks' in ultrasound
Steroids control gas exchange in plants
Fossil cricket reveals Jurassic love song
Rhino dies after anti-poaching treatment in S.Africa
Lions adapt to winter at Canada safari park
Invasive alien predator causes rapid declines of European ladybirds
Not the black sheep of domestic animals
Coaxing a Shy Microbe to Stand Out in a Crowd
How the zebra got its stripes
Fruit flies drawn to the sweet smell of youth
FLORA AND FAUNA Genetic Rosetta Stone unveiled in Nature
Ultraviolet protection molecule in plants yields its secrets
Indian village relocated to protect tigers
Explosive evolution need not follow mass extinctions
Plants use circadian rhythms to prepare for battle with insects
Armenia culls wolves after cold snap attacks
The Developing Genome?
Tempur-Pedic Mattress Comparison
Chromosome analyses of prickly pear cacti reveal southern glacial refugia
Poachers slaughter hundreds of elephants in Cameroon
'Founder effect' observed for first time
A Blue Future For Global Warming
Hitchhikers guide to Science
The Art of The Barbecue
Lost your bottle?
A Crossword a Day keeps the Doctor at Bay
Bio-plastics: Turning Wheat And Potatoes into Plastics
Why Don't Woodpeckers Get Brain Damage?
Protein Origami: Pop-up Books & Nature's Polymers
The Science of Parasites
Synthetic Biology: Making Life from Scratch
Flies are creatures of habit
What is Love?
How do plants develop?
What IQ Tests Can't Tell You
What is the Weirdest Experiment Ever?
Humble Honey Bee Helping National Security
Southern Right Whales
The Ocean's Cleaners
Barnacles "mussel" in
Food Date Coding Decoded
Photorhabdus luminescens: The Angel's Glow
Evolution Through the Looking Glass
I'm a Civet: Get me out of here!
No Smoke Detectors in the Sea