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It’s obvious that miners focus on the highest concentration of gold or copper they can find. And geologists like me are always on the lookout for unusually high concentrations of metals in veins and rocks.
We go where the best stuff is, and make a living helping to bring it to where it’s used in everything from the lead and zinc in your car battery to gold crowns for your teeth.
I know the geological perspective about resources pretty well. But recently I had the chance to think about how some very different actors approach the question of the raw materials they need.
Our friends in the plant kingdom are masters of using some very low-concentration raw materials. They depend on the carbon dioxide in the air, which is present in the atmosphere in only trace amounts.
They get water from thin films of moisture in the soil. And they absorb minerals that are present in low concentrations near their roots, sending out root branches and root hairs to increase what they can take in.
From the point of view of surviving with only scarce raw materials, plants are impressive. They start with diffuse ingredients and out of them they make good materials like carbohydrates, proteins and oils.
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