The Process of Photosynthesis

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Photosynthesis is process by which green plants and certain other organisms use the energy of light to convert carbon dioxide and water into the simple sugar glucose. In so doing, photosynthesis provides the basic energy source for virtually all organisms. An extremely important byproduct of photosynthesis is oxygen, on which most organisms depend.

Photosynthesis occurs in green plants, seaweeds, algae, and certain bacteria. These organisms are veritable sugar factories, producing millions of new glucose molecules per second. Plants use much of this glucose, a carbohydrate, as an energy source to build leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds. They also convert glucose to cellulose, the structural material used in their cell walls. Most plants produce more glucose than they use, however, and they store it in the form of starch and other carbohydrates in roots, stems, and leaves. The plants can then draw on these reserves for extra energy or building materials. Each year, photosynthesizing organisms produce about 170 billion metric tons of extra carbohydrates, about 30 metric tons for every person on earth.

Photosynthesis has far-reaching implications. Like plants, humans and other animals depend on glucose as an energy source, but they are unable to produce it on their own and must rely ultimately on the glucose produced by plants. Moreover, the oxygen humans and other animals breathe is the oxygen released during photosynthesis. Humans are also dependent on ancient products of photosynthesis, known as fossil fuels, for supplying most of our modern industrial energy. These fossil fuels, including natural gas, coal, and petroleum, are composed of a complex mix of hydrocarbons, the remains of organisms that relied on photosynthesis millions of years ago. Thus, virtually all life on earth, directly or indirectly, depends on photosynthesis as a source of food, energy, and oxygen, making it one of the most important biochemical processes known.

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