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What Is Urea?

Urea is a waste compound; in fact, it’s part of urine and even sweat. The body produces it each time the liver breaks down amino acids and protein. The urea helps excrete the excess nitrogen. It is highly efficient at this, being very soluble. The typical human being produces an average of 30 grams of urea in a day; other animals, like fish and amphibians, also excrete urea. Given this, doctors will check the levels of urea in patients to check for any signs of kidney malfunctioning, dehydration, or excessive protein intake.

HillaireRouelle, a French chemist, was able to isolate it in 1773. Not many people know that urea has an important place in the history of science. It was the first naturally occurring compound that was replicated in the laboratory using inorganic compounds. This major scientific milestone was made in 1828, just a little over half a century after it was discovered. The genius behind that was Friedrich Wohler, the pioneer of organic chemistry.

Wohler used carbon dioxide and synthetically created ammonia. He did this by applying very intense heat and pressure to ammonium carbamate, dehydrating it to create synthetic urea in both solid and liquid form. This was not just a mere intellectual exercise, however. Synthetic urea has several practical uses. It is an ingredient in plastics and pesticides, cleansers (including those used for toilet bowl cleansers and washing machine detergents) and hair coloring treatments. It is also used to make medicines such as diuretics, barbiturates, and even products that restore the skin’s moisture.

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