Molecular nitrogen (N2) comprises about 79 percent of the atmosphere, making it the most abundant element in Earth’s atmosphere.
Nitrogen is crucial for most biological processes. It is found in every amino acid and in every nucleotide. Amino acids are the molecular building blocks for all proteins while nucleotides are the molecular building blocks for all DNA and RNA. Chlorophyll molecules, which are essential for photosynthesis, are especially nitrogen rich.
As abundant as nitrogen is in Earth’s atmosphere, nitrogen in forms that plants can exploit is relatively scarce. For many parts of the world this scarcity is the limiting factor on photosynthetic biomass. Sophisticated nitrogen-fixation machines found in different life-forms and the complex symbiotic relationships channel the generated fixed nitrogen to plants lacking such mechanisms. These machines have served as a long-standing argument for the supernatural design of Earth’s life.
Now a team of two Dutch and eight Russian botanists has discovered in a subalpine plant species nitrogen-fixation machinery different from that found in any other species.1 The plant, Corydalis conorhiza, grows high up in the Caucasus Mountains of southern Russia. It is covered with snow for all but a few weeks out of the year. For the plant to survive it must make the most of its very short growing season.
The botanists discovered that while there is still snow on the ground Corydalis conorhiza grows “snow roots.” Instead of growing down into the soil, these roots grow up against the force of gravity into several layers of snow. Though the plant is quite tiny (its size in the snowless weeks is just a few centimeters) it produces a thick filigree mat of very thin snow roots that extends up to 50 centimeters away from the plant.
Using a relatively rare isotope of nitrogen (nitrogen-15), the botanical team performed experiments that demonstrated the snow root mats were taking up nitrogen from the snow. Nitrogen that would have run off as the snow melted was captured by the snow roots. Thus, as much of the scarce nitrogen nutrient is captured as possible and stored by the Corydalis conorhiza plants. As soon as all the snow has melted away, the Corydalis conorhiza plants exploit the stored nitrogen to generate rapid growth during the very short summer season.
Another demonstration of the efficiency of Corydalis conorhiza is that as soon as the snow is gone the plants immediately stop sustaining the snow roots. Consequently, the snow roots quickly rot, decompose, and blow away. The speed at which the snow roots disappear after the melting of the snow explains why scientists did not discover them until just a few months ago.
How did the botanical team interpret their discovery of this amazing and unique nitrogen capture machinery? The team leader, Hans Cornelissen, said in an interview, “This is a completely new discovery. Snow roots are thus far an unknown and a spectacular evolutionary phenomenon.” Cornelissen did not cite any evidence for the snow roots or for their nitrogen-fixation machinery evolving from some other root system. The exceptionality of the snow roots and their nitrogen-capturing machinery, their extraordinarily complex designs, and their optimal efficiency qualifies them as evidence, not for evolution, but rather for supernatural design. Corydalis conorhiza is evidence for God’s desire to pack all of Earth’s habitats with as much life as possible.
- Vladimir G. Onipchenko et al., “New Nitrogen Uptake Strategy: Specialized Snow Roots,” Ecology Letters 12 (August 2009): 758-64.