The energy that is harnessed from photosynthesis enters the ecosystems of our planet continuously and is transferred from one organism to another. Therefore, directly or indirectly, the process of photosynthesis provides most of the energy required by living things on earth. Photosynthesis also results in the release of oxygen into the atmosphere. In short, to eat and breathe, humans depend almost entirely on the organisms that carry out photosynthesis.
- 5.1.1: Overview of Photosynthesis
- All living organisms on earth consist of one or more cells. Each cell runs on the chemical energy found mainly in carbohydrate molecules (food), and the majority of these molecules are produced by one process: photosynthesis. Through photosynthesis, certain organisms convert solar energy (sunlight) into chemical energy, which is then used to build carbohydrate molecules. The energy used to hold these molecules together is released when an organism breaks down food.
- 5.1.2: The Light-Dependent Reactions of Photosynthesis
- How can light be used to make food? It is easy to think of light as something that exists and allows living organisms, such as humans, to see, but light is a form of energy. Like all energy, light can travel, change form, and be harnessed to do work. In the case of photosynthesis, light energy is transformed into chemical energy, which autotrophs use to build carbohydrate molecules. However, autotrophs only use a specific component of sunlight .
- 5.1.3: The Calvin Cycle
- Carbohydrate molecules made will have a backbone of carbon atoms. Where does the carbon come from? The carbon atoms used to build carbohydrate molecules comes from carbon dioxide, the gas that animals exhale with each breath. The Calvin cycle is the term used for the reactions of photosynthesis that use the energy stored by the light-dependent reactions to form glucose and other carbohydrate molecules.
- 5.1.4: Glycolysis
- ATP functions as the energy currency for cells. It allows cells to store energy briefly and transport it within itself to support endergonic chemical reactions. The structure of ATP is that of an RNA nucleotide with three phosphate groups attached. As ATP is used for energy, a phosphate group is detached, and ADP is produced. Energy derived from glucose catabolism is used to recharge ADP into ATP. Glycolysis is the first pathway used in the breakdown of glucose to extract energy.
- 5.1.5: Citric Acid Cycle and Oxidative Phosphorylation
- The citric acid cycle is a series of chemical reactions that removes high-energy electrons and uses them in the electron transport chain to generate ATP. One molecule of ATP (or an equivalent) is produced per each turn of the cycle. The electron transport chain is the portion of aerobic respiration that uses free oxygen as the final electron acceptor for electrons removed from the intermediate compounds in glucose catabolism.
- 5.1.6: Fermentation
- If NADH cannot be metabolized through aerobic respiration, another electron acceptor is used. Most organisms will use some form of fermentation to accomplish the regeneration of NAD+, ensuring the continuation of glycolysis. The regeneration of NAD+ in fermentation is not accompanied by ATP production; therefore, the potential for NADH to produce ATP using an electron transport chain is not utilized.
- 5.1.7: Connections to Other Metabolic Pathways
- Metabolic pathways should be thought of as porous—that is, substances enter from other pathways, and other substances leave for other pathways. These pathways are not closed systems. Many of the products in a particular pathway are reactants in other pathways.
Thumbnail: Plant cells (bounded by purple walls) filled with chloroplasts (green), which are the site of photosynthesis. Image used iwth permission (CC BY-SA 3.0; Kristian Peters)