Photosynthesis is the process by which plants and other things make food. It is a chemical process that uses sunlight to turn carbon dioxide into sugars the cell can use as energy. As well as plants, many kinds of algae, protists and bacteria use it to get food. Photosynthesis is very important for life on Earth. Most plants either directly or indirectly depend on it. The exception are certain organisms that directly get their energy from chemical reactions; these organisms are called chemoautotrophs.
Photosynthesis can happen in different ways, but there are some parts that are common.
- 6 CO2(g) + 6 H2O + photons → C6H12O6(aq) + 6 O2(g)
- carbon dioxide + water + light energy → glucose + oxygen
Reactions[change | change source]
Photosynthesis has two main sets of reactions. Light-dependent reactions need light to work; and light-independent reactions, which do not need light to work.
Light-dependent reactions[change | change source]
Main article: Light-dependent reaction
Light energy from the sun is used to split water molecules (photolysis). The sunlight hits chloroplasts in the plant, causing an enzyme to break apart the water. Water, when broken, makes oxygen, hydrogen, and electrons in the pathway of Dolai's S-state diagrams. Ref. Dolai, U (2017) "Chemical Scheme of Water -Splitting Process during Photosynthesis by the way of Experimental Analysis ". IOSR Journal of Pharmacy and Biological Sciences. 12(6): 65-67. doi:10.9790/3008-1206026567. ISSN 2319-7676.
Hydrogen, along with electrons energized by light, converts NADP into NADPH which is then used in the light-independent reactions. Oxygen diffuses out of the plant as a waste product of photosynthesis, and ATP is synthesized from ADP and inorganicphosphate. This all happens in the grana of chloroplasts.
Light-independent reactions[change | change source]
Main article: Light-independent reaction
During this reaction, sugars are built up using carbon dioxide and the products of the light-dependent reactions (ATP and NADPH) and various other chemicals found in the plant in the Calvin Cycle. Therefore, the light-independent reaction cannot happen without the light-dependent reaction. Carbon dioxide diffuses into the plant and along with chemicals in the chloroplast, ATP, and NADPH, glucose is made and finally, transported around the plant by translocation.
Factors affecting photosynthesis[change | change source]
There are three main factors affecting photosynthesis:
Light intensity[change | change source]
If there is little light shining on a plant, the light-dependent reactions will not work efficiently. This means that photolysis will not happen quickly, and therefore little NADPH and ATP will be made. This shortage of NADPH and ATP will lead to the light-independent reactions not working as NADPH and ATP are needed for the light-independent reactions to work.
Carbon dioxide levels[change | change source]
Carbon dioxide is used in the light-independent reactions. It combines with NADPH and ATP and various other chemicals (such as Ribulose Bisphosphate) to form glucose. Therefore, if there is not enough carbon dioxide, then there will be a buildup of NADPH and ATP and not enough glucose will be formed.
Temperature[change | change source]
There are many enzymes working in photosynthetic reactions – such as the enzyme in photolysis. These enzymes will not work as well, or stop working at all at high or low temperatures and therefore, so will the light-dependent and light-independent reactions. Tropical plants have a higher temperature optimum than the plants adapted to temperate climates.
Early evolution[change | change source]
The first photosynthetic organisms probably evolved early in the history of life. They may have used reducing agents such as hydrogen or hydrogen sulfide as sources of electrons, rather than water.Cyanobacteria appeared later, and the excess oxygen they produced contributed to the oxygen catastrophe. This made the evolution of complex life possible.
Effectiveness[change | change source]
Today, the average rate of energy capture by photosynthesis globally is approximately 130 terawatts, which is about six times larger than the current power used by human civilization. Photosynthetic organisms also convert around 100–115 thousand million metric tonnes of carbon into biomass per year.
Related pages[change | change source]
References[change | change source]
Photosynthesis, the process by which green plants and certain other organisms transform light energy into chemical energy. During photosynthesis in green plants, light energy is captured and used to convert water, carbon dioxide, and minerals into oxygen and energy-rich organic compounds.
It would be impossible to overestimate the importance of photosynthesis in the maintenance of life on Earth. If photosynthesis ceased, there would soon be little food or other organic matter on Earth. Most organisms would disappear, and in time Earth’s atmosphere would become nearly devoid of gaseous oxygen. The only organisms able to exist under such conditions would be the chemosynthetic bacteria, which can utilize the chemical energy of certain inorganic compounds and thus are not dependent on the conversion of light energy.
Energy produced by photosynthesis carried out by plants millions of years ago is responsible for the fossil fuels (i.e., coal, oil, and gas) that power industrial society. In past ages, green plants and small organisms that fed on plants increased faster than they were consumed, and their remains were deposited in Earth’s crust by sedimentation and other geological processes. There, protected from oxidation, these organic remains were slowly converted to fossil fuels. These fuels not only provide much of the energy used in factories, homes, and transportation but also serve as the raw material for plastics and other synthetic products. Unfortunately, modern civilization is using up in a few centuries the excess of photosynthetic production accumulated over millions of years. Consequently, the carbon dioxide that has been removed from the air to make carbohydrates in photosynthesis over millions of years is being returned at an incredibly rapid rate. The carbon dioxide concentration in Earth’s atmosphere is rising the fastest it ever has in Earth’s history, and this phenomenon is expected to have major implications on Earth’s climate.
Requirements for food, materials, and energy in a world where human population is rapidly growing have created a need to increase both the amount of photosynthesis and the efficiency of converting photosynthetic output into products useful to people. One response to those needs—the so-called Green Revolution, begun in the mid-20th century—achieved enormous improvements in agricultural yield through the use of chemical fertilizers, pest and plant-disease control, plant breeding, and mechanized tilling, harvesting, and crop processing. This effort limited severe famines to a few areas of the world despite rapid population growth, but it did not eliminate widespread malnutrition. Moreover, beginning in the early 1990s, the rate at which yields of major crops increased began to decline. This was especially true for rice in Asia. Rising costs associated with sustaining high rates of agricultural production, which required ever-increasing inputs of fertilizers and pesticides and constant development of new plant varieties, also became problematic for farmers in many countries.
A secondagricultural revolution, based on plant genetic engineering, was forecast to lead to increases in plant productivity and thereby partially alleviate malnutrition. Since the 1970s, molecular biologists have possessed the means to alter a plant’s genetic material (deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA) with the aim of achieving improvements in disease and drought resistance, product yield and quality, frost hardiness, and other desirable properties. However, such traits are inherently complex, and the process of making changes to crop plants through genetic engineering has turned out to be more complicated than anticipated. In the future such genetic engineering may result in improvements in the process of photosynthesis, but by the first decades of the 21st century, it had yet to demonstrate that it could dramatically increase crop yields.
Another intriguing area in the study of photosynthesis has been the discovery that certain animals are able to convert light energy into chemical energy. The emerald green sea slug (Elysia chlorotica), for example, acquires genes and chloroplasts from Vaucheria litorea, an alga it consumes, giving it a limited ability to produce chlorophyll. When enough chloroplasts are assimilated, the slug may forgo the ingestion of food. The pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum) can harness light to manufacture the energy-rich compoundadenosine triphosphate (ATP); this ability has been linked to the aphid’s manufacture of carotenoid pigments.
Development of the idea
The study of photosynthesis began in 1771 with observations made by the English clergyman and scientist Joseph Priestley. Priestley had burned a candle in a closed container until the air within the container could no longer support combustion. He then placed a sprig of mint plant in the container and discovered that after several days the mint had produced some substance (later recognized as oxygen) that enabled the confined air to again support combustion. In 1779 the Dutch physician Jan Ingenhousz expanded upon Priestley’s work, showing that the plant had to be exposed to light if the combustible substance (i.e., oxygen) was to be restored. He also demonstrated that this process required the presence of the green tissues of the plant.
In 1782 it was demonstrated that the combustion-supporting gas (oxygen) was formed at the expense of another gas, or “fixed air,” which had been identified the year before as carbon dioxide. Gas-exchange experiments in 1804 showed that the gain in weight of a plant grown in a carefully weighed pot resulted from the uptake of carbon, which came entirely from absorbed carbon dioxide, and water taken up by plant roots; the balance is oxygen, released back to the atmosphere. Almost half a century passed before the concept of chemical energy had developed sufficiently to permit the discovery (in 1845) that light energy from the sun is stored as chemical energy in products formed during photosynthesis.
Overall reaction of photosynthesis
In chemical terms, photosynthesis is a light-energized oxidation–reduction process. (Oxidation refers to the removal of electrons from a molecule; reduction refers to the gain of electrons by a molecule.) In plant photosynthesis, the energy of light is used to drive the oxidation of water (H2O), producing oxygen gas (O2), hydrogen ions (H+), and electrons. Most of the removed electrons and hydrogen ions ultimately are transferred to carbon dioxide (CO2), which is reduced to organic products. Other electrons and hydrogen ions are used to reduce nitrate and sulfate to amino and sulfhydryl groups in amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. In most green cells, carbohydrates—especially starch and the sugarsucrose—are the major direct organic products of photosynthesis. The overall reaction in which carbohydrates—represented by the general formula (CH2O)—are formed during plant photosynthesis can be indicated by the following equation:
This equation is merely a summary statement, for the process of photosynthesis actually involves numerous reactions catalyzed by enzymes (organic catalysts). These reactions occur in two stages: the “light” stage, consisting of photochemical (i.e., light-capturing) reactions; and the “dark” stage, comprising chemical reactions controlled by enzymes. During the first stage, the energy of light is absorbed and used to drive a series of electron transfers, resulting in the synthesis of ATP and the electron-donor-reduced nicotine adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH). During the dark stage, the ATP and NADPH formed in the light-capturing reactions are used to reduce carbon dioxide to organic carbon compounds. This assimilation of inorganic carbon into organic compounds is called carbon fixation.
During the 20th century, comparisons between photosynthetic processes in green plants and in certain photosynthetic sulfur bacteria provided important information about the photosynthetic mechanism. Sulfur bacteria use hydrogen sulfide (H2S) as a source of hydrogen atoms and produce sulfur instead of oxygen during photosynthesis. The overall reaction is
In the 1930s Dutch biologist Cornelis van Niel recognized that the utilization of carbon dioxide to form organic compounds was similar in the two types of photosynthetic organisms. Suggesting that differences existed in the light-dependent stage and in the nature of the compounds used as a source of hydrogen atoms, he proposed that hydrogen was transferred from hydrogen sulfide (in bacteria) or water (in green plants) to an unknown acceptor (called A), which was reduced to H2A. During the dark reactions, which are similar in both bacteria and green plants, the reduced acceptor (H2A) reacted with carbon dioxide (CO2) to form carbohydrate (CH2O) and to oxidize the unknown acceptor to A. This putative reaction can be represented as:
Van Niel’s proposal was important because the popular (but incorrect) theory had been that oxygen was removed from carbon dioxide (rather than hydrogen from water, releasing oxygen) and that carbon then combined with water to form carbohydrate (rather than the hydrogen from water combining with CO2 to form CH2O).
By 1940 chemists were using heavy isotopes to follow the reactions of photosynthesis. Water marked with an isotope of oxygen (18O) was used in early experiments. Plants that photosynthesized in the presence of water containing H218O produced oxygen gas containing 18O; those that photosynthesized in the presence of normal water produced normal oxygen gas. These results provided definitive support for van Niel’s theory that the oxygen gas produced during photosynthesis is derived from water.