What is Urea?

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What is Urea?
What is Urea? (Image: Photo by IRRI Images (License: Creative Commons Attribution))

Urea, chemical formula (NH2)2CO, is one of the waste byproducts created when the body metabolizes proteins for use. Although the body eliminates urea as waste, there are a number of industrial uses for the compound.

History

In 1773, French scientist Hillaire M. Rouelle isolated urea from human urine. Friedrich Wohler, a German chemist, synthesized urea from ammonium cyanate, the first time anyone chemically synthesized an organic compound. In 1864, German chemist Adolph Bayer discovered how to create barbiturates, central nervous system depressants, by reacting urea with malonic acid.

Bodily Production

When the body uses proteins that have been ingested, it catabolizes them to unleash adenosine-5-triphosphate, also known as ATP. ATP is a form of stored energy that the body can use to operate muscles. Along with urea, other waste byproducts of protein catabolism are carbon dioxide, water and ammonia. Urea is released from the body through urine.

Fertilizer

Most of the one million pounds of urea produced in America annually goes into fertilizer. Urea has a high nitrogen content, which breaks down in soil and is used to nourish a variety of crops.

Industrial

Urea is cheap to produce and transport, and has found a variety of industrial uses. Urea-formaldehyde resins are produced as an adhesive for wood and paper products. Urea is also used in antifreezes and is used as a selective catalytic reducer to eliminate nitric oxides from diesel tanks. Urea is sprayed into diesel tanks and then converts the harmful nitric oxides into nitrogen and water.

Urea and Disease

Abnormal levels of urea in the urine can be indicative of kidney diseases. Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and urine urea nitrogen (UUN) tests for levels of urea for those at risk of kidney failure or end-stage renal disease.

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