NCHOPS: The building blocks of life

By Mike Wagoner
Reader Contributor

I was thumbing through a biology textbook the other day and stumbled upon the periodic chart. You remember it: the big, scary, multi-colored banner of boxes that hung on the wall in your high school science class. It lists all the things of which this planet is made: the elements.

While staring at it, I was struck by something. We are certainly “of this world.” Our bones, skin, muscles, even our very DNA is made up of the same stuff that is found in the rocks, water and air of the planet. There are six main ones, where we are concerned, that make up around 99 percent of us all. They are nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur, or NCHOPS. This is the “word” I used to remember them in school.

Anyway, that’s what we are, so whoever or whatever made us used stuff that was already here. When we pass away, the elements within us return home. “Dust to dust.” Nitrogen is in the air, water and soil. So is carbon. Phosphorous doesn’t have a gas cycle, so it’s either in the rocks or the water. Oxygen and hydrogen are mainly in the air and the water. Sulfur can surprise you most anywhere depending on … well, it’s a long story.

Nature is all about recycling everything. Think about it: There are only so many atoms to go around. Sort of like pennies. There’s never going to be any more or less. Nature has known for a long time that you need to plan on reusing everything or you’re going to run out. Huh… good thinking. So, you could have an atom in your leg that was in a dinosaur.

We are even recycled while we are living. That’s right, in about four years, our bodies renew themselves molecule by molecule, atom by atom. That’s what molecules are made up of: atoms. Who says people can’t change?

How do we incorporate all these different elements of the earth into our bodies? Well, this question can be answered with another question: “What’s for dinner?”

Mike Wagoner has a dual personality. By day he is a science teacher and by night a singer/songwriter. He has recently moved to the area from Nashville where he taught school and did studio work on the side.

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