Plants would die if they could not use the chelation principle. The term chelate was first applied in 1920 by Sir Gilbert Morgan and H.D. Drew who stated: “The adjective chelate, is suggested for the caliper like groups which function as two associating units and fasten to the central atom so as to produce heterocyclic rings.”
Chelation is a biochemical process that bonds critical micronutrient metal ions (such as manganese, magnesium, copper, zinc and iron-each are called a chelate) to larger organic molecules (chelating agents such as amino acids, citric acid, glucoheptanates and other organic acids). These chelating agents are able to tear a mineral (chelate) away from another compound (in which it is bound), and hold it inside its own protective structure. This protective structure holds together long enough to deliver the metal to the site or the location within the plant where it is needed. The protective structure (chelating agent) must be strong enough to deliver the metal (chelate) without dispersing it too early, or being affected by . other soil components, which could bind it or break it down. Yet, the protective structure must be weak enough to be broken down by plant exudates once it reaches its needed destination, otherwise the plant cannot use it. Since all plants require these metal micronurtients for optimum growth and development, no plant or animal cell can function except by utilizing the chelation principle.
Minerals are tied into enzymes by special bonds, called coordinate bonds, and when so bound, the entire molecule takes on new properties. Soluble forms may become insoluble, and vice versa; color changes may follow, speeds of action of a mineral salt may be multiplied a thousand fold, and mineral elements, that otherwise cannot enter a cell, may participate readily in the intracellular activities when the metal becomes partly or completely surrounded by the organic portion of the enzyme (chelating agent). A partial surrounding of the mineral is called a complex, where as a completely surrounded mineral is said to be a chelate. All biological activity depends on enzymes that use the minerals trapped in a complexed or chelated arrangement.
Chelation occurs naturally in composting, or as a grower builds humus by putting crop/plant residue, manure and other organic material back into the soil. Microbial activity breaks the organic material down creating various organic compounds (chelating agents) that filter through the soil forming chelated relationships with metal ions.
Man has developed a number of synthetic chelating agents to bind metallic ions: DTPA, EDTA, HEDTA, EDDHA and NTA. The value of a synthetic chelated micronutient lies in their ability to move freely with other nutrients through the soil solution for rapid effective uptake by the root system. Non-chelated micronutrients must be accurately placed in the root zone where chelation can take place. As a result a much higher percentage of micronutrients are lost to leaching and the plant must expend additional energy to insure the chelation process occurs.
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