Fertilize (verb, “FUR-till-ize”)
The word fertilize means two very different things in biology and farming. In both cases, the act of fertilizing is known as fertilization.
In biology, fertilization refers to a particular stage of sexual reproduction. This type of reproduction involves two members of the same species combining their genetic material, or DNA, to create offspring.
Fertilization is the step in that process when two cells called gametes — one from each parent — fuse together. Each gamete contains half of the genetic instructions needed to build the cells that make up the offspring. When two gametes join together, they create one new cell containing the genetic material of both. This new cell containing a full set of DNA ultimately grows into the offspring organism.
In humans, those gametes are the egg and sperm. When the sperm fuses with the egg, scientists say the sperm “fertilizes” the egg.
In agriculture, fertilization refers to the process of adding nutrients to the soil. Plants take up nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients from the soil. They use these nutrients to grow and produce flowers, fruit and other structures.
Crops we grow for food, such as corn and wheat, use a lot of these nutrients. And over time, fields can start to run out of them. So farmers fertilize their crops with added nutrients — fertilizers — to grow enough food.
However, fertilizers can cause environmental problems. Excess fertilizers get washed out of the soil by rainwater. Eventually, they wind up in lakes, rivers and oceans. These added nutrients can boost algae growth, causing algal blooms. Sometimes, these algal blooms release toxins that hurt animals and plants that live in the water.
In a sentence
Replacing lawn grass with native plants saves water and reduces the need to fertilize lawns.
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