A disease found mainly in infants, molybdenum cofactor deficiency causes high concentrations of urates and sulfates in the blood in addition to neurological damage. This results from the body’s inability to bond molybdenum to enzymes used by the human body.
Beef liver, pork and lamb are good sources of molybdenum in meat, while the plant kingdom can provide a body with molybdenum with cucumbers, green beans, wheat flour, lentils and sunflower seeds. Another good source of source of the mineral is found in eggs.
In the rare case that there is an over abundance of molybdenum, symptoms might include diarrhea, anemia, stunted growth and achromotrichia. This is seen mainly in animals, and occurs because the mineral interferes with the bonding of copper in the blood, causing copper deficiency. The best way to treat this condition is to increase the amount of copper intake. Those that work with molybdenum must take precautions not to inhale or be overly exposed to the mineral, as chronic exposure can lead to a variety of symptoms such as headaches, joint pain and irritation of the eyes or skin.
On the Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness, molybdenum has a hardness of 5.5, giving it a hardness between apatite and orthoclase feldspar. This means that the mineral is approximately 3 times softer than quartz. Despite its relative softness, this mineral has a fairly high melting point at 2,623 degrees, Celsius. Only five naturally occurring elements have a higher melting point than molybdenum.
On Earth, molybdenum does not occur as a free metal, instead showing up in various oxidation states of minerals and appearing as a silvery-grey metal. 80% of the world’s production of the mineral is for industrial uses in the creation of steel alloys. Another 14% of the world’s production is used in the production of various catalysts or pigments.
Having an atomic masses between 83 to 117, there are 35 isotopes of molybdenum known to modern science. Of these isotopes, molybdenum-98 is the most common. Molybdenum-111 to molybdenum-117 have short half lives of about 150 nanoseconds.
Molybdenite, from which modern molybdenum is now extracted, was in the past confused with graphite or galena and was used in much the same manner until it was discovered it was a separate mineral in 1778.
Because of its relative scarceness, molybdenum had no use as an industrial component from the late 1700s until about a century later. Even once the mineral began to be used as an alloy for steel, its widespread use was hindered by its relative brittleness and tendency to crystallize.
Calvin D. Coolidge patented a process to render the mineral ductile in 1906, leading to molybdenum in the use of various areas that required high temperatures, such as high temperature furnace heating elements and as a support metal for tungsten in certain types of light bulbs.
In World War I and World War II molybdenum saw a boom in use as armor plating and a replacement in steel alloys for the material tungsten. Between WWI and WWII, demand for molybdenum plummeted.
Advances in metallurgy procedures have lead to an increasing use of molybdenum, mainly in the areas of high strength steel alloys; moth high strength steels contain somewhere between .25% and 8% molybdenum. The metal is not only used because of its strength, but it also helps the alloy resist corrosion better and it’s ability to be welded easily.
Another use for molybdenum is as fertilizer. The addition of molybdenum as fertilizer can be used to raise the pH of soil to help plants, such as cauliflower, grow better. Other plants that commonly use molybdenum as fertilizer include alfalfa, soy beans, corn and potatoes. Many types of legumes benefit from the use of molybdenum in their soil, as it helps fixate the nitrogen needed by the plant.
There has also been slight promise in the study of molybdenum to help reduce the growth of cancerous cells. In 2003, a small study was performed on a group of people that had advanced kidney cancer; four of the fifteen patients saw a halting of the growth of their tumors during the trial.
In 2008, another study was done showing that state 1 or 2 mesothelioma sufferers may have an increased survival rate, though the use of molybdenum did not seem to affect those with more advanced forms of mesothelioma. In all study cases, a form of molybdenum that differs from the dietary supplement, called tetrathiomolybdate, was used.