How does the process of photosynthesis impact both the flow of energy and the cycling of nutrients?

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txmedteach's profile pic

txmedteach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

Photosynthesis is the process by which plants use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into sugar. Other organic compounds are made, but generally, we are worried about the production of carbohydrates.

The chemical specifics of photosynthesis are a bit too detailed for this discussion, but they can be boiled down to a couple of important concepts.

First, it allows the use of sunlight to produce chemical potential energy in the form of sugar. Carbon dioxide, in terms of biology, has effectively zero potential energy, and it is useless for an organism to try to metabolize this substance. However, with plant organelles, carbon dioxide can be combined with other molecules of carbon dioxide and water, making energy-containing bonds. These bonds are then broken to produce the energy that powers almost all life in anabolic reactions. Therefore, when we consider the flow of energy in living systems, we see that energy produced in the sun flows to plants and other photosynthetic organisms, which create sugar and allow energy to flow to other organisms.

The second important concept is that this process keeps carbon from being wasted. Carbon is the basis for every biological macromolecule, just as it is the basis to make fuel for every living thing on this planet! It is not a resource that can be wasted in large amounts, and photosynthesis allows the carbon that has been used to produce energy to be converted into a usable form. The carbon that has been used for energy is generally in the form of carbon dioxide, which, as we mentioned before, is converted to sugar. This sugar can then be metabolized by an organism to produce carbon dioxide, and the cycle repeats anew. Similarly, molecular oxygen is produced during photosynthesis, and this fuel is important to the many aerobic organisms, like you and me, to be recycled as it is used.

I hope this provides a good overview of the process as it relates to your question!

opadunn's profile pic

opadunn | High School Teacher | (Level 2) eNoter

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Photosynthesis converts light energy to chemical energy in the form of sugar.  Other organisms can then obtain the energy from the plant (or other photosynthetic organism) by eating it.  This is the reason that nearly all life on Earth is dependent on the sun.  During the process of photosynthesis, plants take in Carbon Dioxide and water, give off Oxygen as a waste product, and make glucose.  This makes plants an important part of the Carbon cycle and water cycle.  Plants also take up Nitrogen through their roots, making them an important part of the cycling of Nitrogen as well.  When photosynthetic organisms die, decomposers return the Carbon, Nitrogen, and water in their tissues back to the environment to be used again.  If the photosynthetic organism is eaten, those elements become part of the organism that ate them, and the elements are either returned to the environment when they die or as the organisms waste (defecation, urination).  It is important to remember that matter (elements like Carbon, Oxygen, etc.) gets cycled through the environment, while energy gets used up.

pranitingale's profile pic

pranitingale | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Photosynthesis :-- ( photo - sunlight ; synthesis - making) It is the process of plants in which they store food in the form of starch by using elements such as water, CO2, sunlight, etc............. Many cycles such as carbon cycle, oxygen cycle, nitrogen cycle plants play a vital role in circuling the element into different forms. ELEMENTS CIRCULATED IN CYCLE - carbondioxide, oxygen, water, starch, nitrngen, ammonia, nitrates etc

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