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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Explain the relevance of photosynthesis to other living things
  • Describe the main structures involved in photosynthesis
  • Identify the substrates and products of photosynthesis
  • Summarize the process of photosynthesis

Photosynthesis is essential to all life on earth; both plants and animals depend on it. It is the only biological process that can capture energy that originates in outer space (sunlight) and convert it into chemical compounds (carbohydrates) that every organism uses to power its metabolism. In brief, the energy of sunlight is captured and used to energize electrons, which are then stored in the covalent bonds of sugar molecules. How long lasting and stable are those covalent bonds? The energy extracted today by the burning of coal and petroleum products represents sunlight energy captured and stored by photosynthesis almost 200 million years ago.

Plants, algae, and a group of bacteria called cyanobacteria are the only organisms capable of performing photosynthesis ( [link] ). Because they use light to manufacture their own food, they are called photoautotrophs (literally, “self-feeders using light”). Other organisms, such as animals, fungi, and most other bacteria, are termed heterotrophs (“other feeders”), because they must rely on the sugars produced by photosynthetic organisms for their energy needs. A third very interesting group of bacteria synthesize sugars, not by using sunlight’s energy, but by extracting energy from inorganic chemical compounds; hence, they are referred to as chemoautotrophs .

Photo a shows a fern leaf. Photo b shows thick, green algae growing on water. Micrograph c shows cyanobacteria, which are green rods about 10 microns long. Photo D shows black smoke pouring out of a deep sea vent covered with red worms. Micrograph E shows rod-shaped bacteria about 1.5 microns long.
Photoautotrophs including (a) plants, (b) algae, and (c) cyanobacteria synthesize their organic compounds via photosynthesis using sunlight as an energy source. Cyanobacteria and planktonic algae can grow over enormous areas in water, at times completely covering the surface. In a (d) deep sea vent, chemoautotrophs, such as these (e) thermophilic bacteria, capture energy from inorganic compounds to produce organic compounds. The ecosystem surrounding the vents has a diverse array of animals, such as tubeworms, crustaceans, and octopi that derive energy from the bacteria. (credit a: modification of work by Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; credit b: modification of work by "eutrophication&hypoxia"/Flickr; credit c: modification of work by NASA; credit d: University of Washington, NOAA; credit e: modification of work by Mark Amend, West Coast and Polar Regions Undersea Research Center, UAF, NOAA)

The importance of photosynthesis is not just that it can capture sunlight’s energy. A lizard sunning itself on a cold day can use the sun’s energy to warm up. Photosynthesis is vital because it evolved as a way to store the energy in solar radiation (the “photo-” part) as high-energy electrons in the carbon-carbon bonds of carbohydrate molecules (the “-synthesis” part). Those carbohydrates are the energy source that heterotrophs use to power the synthesis of ATP via respiration. Therefore, photosynthesis powers 99 percent of Earth’s ecosystems. When a top predator, such as a wolf, preys on a deer ( [link] ), the wolf is at the end of an energy path that went from nuclear reactions on the surface of the sun, to light, to photosynthesis, to vegetation, to deer, and finally to wolf.

Questions & Answers

what is biology
Dada Reply
The scientific study of life.
the virus that causes mumps in humans is composed of a protein outer Shell containing a core of DNA
Daniel Reply
Basic science and applied science question about cancer
Joyce Reply
what are the importance of ATPs
Olatunji Reply
How can biology be studied from a microscopic approach to a global approach
Joyce Reply
The large central opening in the poriferan body is called
Chynna Reply
You go for a long walk on a hot day. Give an example of a way in which homeostasis keeps your body healthy.
Joyce Reply
You sweat.
sweating is your bodies way of keeping you from overheating.
Thank you
what is biology
Neya Reply
biology is the study of life
Biology is the study of Life
is the branch of science which deals with the of living things.
what is metabolism
Sangam Reply
hi palz, what's the ?
Gbolajobi Reply
hi plz, what's the.
pls come a again
Describe the steps and results of reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park.
Natalia Reply
tag and release wolves into Yellowstone. wolves eventually reproduce and the pack grows. as wolves hunt they cull the sick and weak prey. the carcass that is left provides food for other species (scavengers and insect.. etc). this heals the circle of life and contributes to the biodiversity...
before you know it species that are critical to the eco system return. having apex predators is crucial to an ecosystem... it helps run the deer and elk , etc around.
example: there was a species of shrub/ plant that grows along river banks that moose love to eat.. the moose have no predator so they decimate that food source which also helps prevent erosion. when the wolves were reintroduced this changed. oddly enough this plant species started to repopulate in
the areas where wolf feces sat and decayed
which of the following statements about the parts of an egg are false?
Israel Reply
Monotremes include...?
medicinal plants including microbs
vijay Reply
,medicinal plants including microbes
what is biology
Siyanbola Reply
study of living organisms...
study of plants and animals
what is abiotic and biotic factors?
Hira Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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