Plant photosynthesis

Most plants are photoautotrophs, which means that they are able to synthesize food directly from inorganic compounds using light energy -for example the sun, instead of eating other organisms or relying on nutrients derived from them. This is distinct from chemoautotrophs that do not depend on light energy, but use energy from inorganic compounds.

The energy for photosynthesis ultimately comes from absorbed photons and involves a reducing agent, which is water in the case of plants, releasing oxygen as a waste product. The light energy is converted to chemical energy, in the form of ATP and NADPH, which is used for synthetic reactions in photoautotrophs. Most notably plants use the chemical energy to fix carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and other organic compounds through light-independent reactions. The overall equation for carbon fixation (sometimes referred to as carbon reduction) in green plants is

n CO2 + 2n H2O + ATP + NADPH --> (CH2O)n + n O2 + n H2O,

where n is defined according to the structure of the resulting carbohydrate. However, hexose sugars and starch are the primary products, so the following generalised equation is often used to represent carbon reduction.

6 CO2 + 12 H2O + ATP + NADPH --> C6H12O6 + 6 O2 + 6 H2O

More specifically, carbon fixation produces an intermediate product, which is then converted to the final hexose carbohydrate products. These carbohydrate products are then variously used to form other organic compounds, such as the building material cellulose, as precursors for lipid and amino acid biosynthesis or as a fuel in cellular respiration. The latter not only occurs in plants, but also in animals when the energy from plants get passed through a food chain. Organisms dependent on photosynthetic and chemosynthetic organisms are called heterotrophs. In general outline, cellular respiration is the opposite of photosynthesis: glucose and other compounds are oxidised to produce carbon dioxide, water, and chemical energy. However, both processes actually take place through a different sequence of reactions and in different cellular compartments.

Plants capture light primarily using the pigment chlorophyll, which is the reason that most plants have a green color. The function of chlorophyll is often supported by other accessory pigments such as carotenes and xanthophylls. Both chlorophyll and accessory pigments are contained in organelles (compartments within the cell) called chloroplasts. Although all cells in the green parts of a plant have chloroplasts, most of the energy is captured in the leaves. The cells in the interior tissues of a leaf, called the mesophyll, contain about half a million chloroplasts for every square millimeter of leaf. The surface of the leaf is uniformly coated with a water-resistant, waxy cuticle, that protects the leaf from excessive evaporation of water as well as decreasing the absorption of ultraviolet or blue light to reduce heating. The transparent, colourless epidermis layer allows light to pass through to the palisade mesophyll cells where most of the photosynthesis takes place.


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