The Function of Soil Minerals and Trace Elements in Soil, Plant, Animal, and Human Nutrition and Health: A Complete Guide

Be it human, plant, or animal health and nutrition, it requires more than just a green thumb or gobbling down any food. To function and grow well, all living beings require the right amount of primary and secondary minerals and trace elements. Now, the problem is that unless you are a biology and biochemistry buff, it can be super challenging to find the perfect balance of everyday nutrients.

For those who have completely no knowledge about the function of soil minerals and trace elements in soil, plant, animal, and human nutrition, this is the best post to get started with. In this post, we have broken down the major points you will need to learn effectively about the crucial soil minerals and trace elements that are needed for soil nutrition, and plant, animal, and human health.

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What Are Soil Minerals?

Soil Minerals and Trace Elements

Before we talk about the function of soil minerals and trace elements in soil, let us first discuss what these are. To begin with, you should know that the entire earth’s surface that is not covered by water has various types of soil on it. The largest component of this uppermost layer of land is the mineral portion (45-49%).

The rest is the organic matter, and empty spaces containing water and gas. This variation of the minerals and other components makes the soil of different kinds – Alluvial, Black/Regur, Red, Mountainous, Desert soil, acid sulfate, Laterite, etc. Thus, soil minerals are quite crucial to the soil, and play a key role in determining its fertility.

Typically, these are formed due to the breakdown of large rocks which is a lengthy process and can even take up to a thousand years. This process of soil formation is weathering. During the formation, some of the mineral riches that can accumulate in soil include Potassium, Sulfur, Calcium, Iron, and Manganese.

Apart from this, the soil also has organic components – humus, water, air, and living organisms. The hummus here is the end product of the decomposition of dead and decayed plants and animals. Also, certain living organisms (bacteria, fungi, microbes, worms, etc.) in the oil play a role in the formation of humus.

https://www.fao.org/fishery/docs/CDrom/FAO_Training/FAO_Training/General/x6706e/x6706e01.htm

What Are Trace Elements?

Trace Elements in : Function of Soil Minerals and Trace Elements in Soil

After soil minerals, let us talk about trace elements. In simple words, these are those chemical elements that are required in minute amounts. These can be nutritionally essential or probably essential. Some trace elements are also potentially toxic. An example of a trace element that is crucial for plants is Boron.

This chemical element is needed by plants to aid calcium to perform its function. That being said, too much or too little of it can cause boron toxicity and boron deficiency, respectively in plants. Thus, when talked about in terms of plant and soil nutrition, trace elements are those micronutrients that are crucial for plant growth in the right amount.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2920677/

Further, when it comes to Trace elements needed for animal and human nutrition, they are already present inside living organisms in small quantities. This amount is usually less than 0.1% by volume. Just like in plants and soil, trace elements for animals and humans can be nutritionally essential, or probably essential. In excess, they can even be potentially toxic.

Copper in Human and Animal Health is an excellent example of a trace element. One of its roles includes aiding enzymatic functions in the living body. Be its metabolic functions and tissue repair, or growth and development, trace elements like Copper and Zinc are vital for nutrition. As of now, there are nearly 21 different types of trace elements that are already described in the human body.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218751/

What Is the Function of Soil Minerals and Trace Elements in Soil, Plant, Animal, and Human Nutrition?

After this, let us move on to discuss the function of soil minerals and trace elements in soil, plant, animal, and human nutrition. We will begin with the functions of some of the major mineral elements:

Major Elements Functions

  • Nitrogen

This mineral is one of the major components when it comes to plants and animals. For animals and humans, it is needed for protein synthesis as well as the production of nitrogenous compounds, neurotransmitters, and hormones. Coming to plants, it is a basic component of the compound that is needed for plants to perform photosynthesis – chlorophyll.

Thus, it also has a role in the development and growth of strong and green leaves. Further, this is a component of amino acids. For those who are not aware, these serve as building blocks for proteins that are very crucial for both plants and animals.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/309704090_Role_of_Nitrogen_for_Plant_Growth_and_Development_A_review

  • Magnesium

For plants, it helps in photosynthesis, the formation of seeds, and the regulation of other elements. The role of Mg in photosynthesis is the reason that its deficiency can result in poor and stunted plant growth. As for animals and humans, this element is needed by as many as three hundred body biochemical reactions. 

Any deficiency of these kinds of minerals can result in poor growth of plants and animals. While many solutions are available for it, not all are safe for them. Thus, it is the need of the hour to look for safer alternatives. For instance, recently, certain poultry owners are using growth enhancers as an alternative in place of in-feed antibiotics as Stimulation of Growth for Fattening Pigs and Broiler Chickens.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8873819/

  • Phosphorous

This element is needed by plant roots for strength. It also helps in improving flower blooms and can aid in the ripening of seeds and fruits. In the case of humans and animals, its main function lies in the formation of bones and teeth. The major mineral also has key roles in ATP production, kidney function, heartbeat regulation, and muscle contractions.

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002424.htm

  • Potassium

The next mineral element we will discuss is potassium. When it comes to plants and nutrition, it is needed to facilitate the uptake of other crucial elements like nitrogen. It also promotes disease resistance and protects plants from very hot or very cold weather conditions. Coming to animals, it is needed by their body to function well.

From nerve function to muscle contraction and heartbeat regulation, potassium assists in a variety of body functions. Apart from this, humans who consume a potassium-rich diet can stay away from some harmful effects of sodium on blood pressure. This nutrient is also important for nutrients to move into the cell, waste products to move out of them, and finally, leave the body.

  • Calcium

You may all know that when it comes to the human body, this mineral is needed for healthy bones and teeth. Along with this well-known function of Ca, it also plays a key role in regulating normal muscle, heart, and nerve functions. As for its function in soil and plants, it is one of the most essential plant nutrients that helps in building strong cell walls, and thereby, promotes complete plant health.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4243668/

  • Sulfur

The last major element that we will be discussing is sulfur. The human body needs it to protect cells from damage and build/fix the DNA. It also keeps skin, tendons, and ligaments healthy. For plants, this element is needed to manufacture chlorophyll, and thereby, it assists in photosynthesis and plant growth. Apart from it, two of the 21 plant and animal amino acids, methionine, and cysteine, have S as their structural component.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7727837/

After the functions of some of the major minerals let us discuss the same for trace elements in the soil. Have a look:

Trace Elements Functions

  • Boron

The first trace element we are discussing is Boron. When it comes to the human body, this element is needed for bone growth and maintenance. Along with this, it impacts how our body can use estrogen, testosterone, and vitamin D. The element also plays a key role in quick wound healing and improving magnesium absorption in the body.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4712861/

Coming to plants and soil, this trace element is needed to uptake nutrients and for cellular growth. Also, it is needed for Calcium to complete all its functions. That being said, too much of this element can result in toxicity and its deficiency can lead to poor development of the growing tip. If you are using magnesium sulfate in excess on your land, it can cause a boron imbalance in the soil.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6073895/

  • Chlorine

When it comes to humans and animals, chlorine compounds are crucial. From assisting in electrical neutrality and maintaining the acid-base balance of the body to regulating the pressure of extracellular fluids, it has roles to play in all. Plants, on the other hand, it is needed for disease resistance and tolerance. Also, plants require it for osmotic and stomatal regulation, and photosynthesis.

  • Copper

For humans and animals, the function of copper is simple. Alongside Iron, it can help in the formation of red blood cells. Also, it aids iron absorption. However, in copper-deficient countries, ruminants can easily experience this deficiency. Generally, for the Correction of Copper Deficiency in Animals, Copper compounds are used. These are injected under their skin with expert care.

https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/feeding-nutrition/copper-deficiency-sheep-and-cattle

For plants, on the other hand, Cu is needed to metabolize nitrogen and root formation. While the deficiency of this element is rare, if your land is filled with sandy, peaty, or chalky soils, you need to keep a check on it. Further, excess Cu can be toxic to both plants as well as people. In the case of plants, preparation of a 1% Burgundy Mixture can be used to prevent the accumulation of high levels of this element in the sediments that surround the plants.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burgundy_mixture

  • Manganese

Next up is Manganese. It is essential for chlorophyll production in plants and thereby helps in its growth and development. As for animals and humans, it has various functions ranging from calcium absorption and blood sugar regulation to fat and carbohydrate metabolism. It is also an essential element for normal brain and nerve function in living beings.

  • Iron

This trace element is again required for the production of chlorophyll that imparts green color to leaves and carries out photosynthesis. In case the soil lacks this, it can lead to the yellowing of the leaves. Also, the plant can start to lack vigor in general. That being said, too much of it is also a problem.

It is because it can lock up the mineral potassium and phosphorus and keep them from the plants. Further, in humans, Fe is needed for the formation of hemoglobin that is needed to carry blood. Along with this, it is needed to make myoglobin and various other hormones. Like in pants, a deficiency of these elements in humans is harmful, as well.

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-Consumer/

  • Molybdenum

After Iron, the next trace element is Molybdenum. This one is only needed in minute amounts in crops – 50 grams per hectare. The toxicity of this element in plants is as harmful as its deficiency. As for its function, it helps plants metabolize nitrogen. As for the human body, it is needed to break down drugs and toxins. Also, our body uses it to process proteins and genetic material.

  • Zinc

The last trace element that you must know for the function of soil minerals and trace elements in soil, plant, animal, and human nutrition, is Zinc. This element is needed for the proper functioning of the immune system in humans and animals. For plants, on the other hand, its function is to aid in seed production and help in various physiological functions.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/348993341_THE_IMPORTANCE_OF_ZINC_IN_PLANT_GROWTH_-A_REVIEW

Final Thoughts: Do Plants and Animals Need Both Major and Trace Elements to Grow Healthily?

Yes, be it plants, animals, or humans, all of them require both major and trace elements in the right proportions for all-around growth and development. A deficiency of any of these can lead to various problems that in some cases can even be fatal to these living organisms. In the case of plants, these can even result in poor root development and various diseases.

For instance, if a crop lacks copper, it can result in increased susceptibility to diseases like ergot. The Correction of Copper Deficiency in Soils can be overcome by the Use of Copper Compounds. While Copper Sulphate’s Role in Agriculture is beneficial, one must also keep in mind that Cu in excess can be toxic to both plants as well as people.

If such a situation arises, a Preparation of Bordeaux and Burgundy Mixture, and its use on the Farm can turn out to be beneficial. This leads us to our final question: Can imbalanced soil minerals and trace elements be balanced? To put it simply, it is possible. While you can find various methods for it, the best is to use a complete organic fertilizer that has a perfect balance of major minerals and trace elements.