Figure 1: Photosynthetic plants synthesize carbon-based energy molecules from the energy in sunlight. Consequently, they provide an abundance of energy for other organisms. Figure detail:
What Is Photosynthesis? Why Is it Important?
Most living things depend on photosynthetic cells to manufacture the complex organic molecules they require as a source of energy. Photosynthetic cells are quite diverse and include cells found in green plants, phytoplankton, and cyanobacteria. During the process of photosynthesis, cells use carbon dioxide and energy from the Sun to make sugar molecules and oxygen. These sugar molecules are the basis for more complex molecules made by the photosynthetic cell, such as glucose. Then, via respiration processes, cells use oxygen and glucose to synthesize energy-rich carrier molecules, such as ATP, and carbon dioxide is produced as a waste product. Therefore, the synthesis of glucose and its breakdown by cells are opposing processes.
Cells get nutrients from their environment, but where do those nutrients come from? Virtually all organic material on Earth has been produced by cells that convert energy from the Sun into energy-containing macromolecules. This process, called photosynthesis, is essential to the global carbon cycle and organisms that conduct photosynthesis represent the lowest level in most food chains (Figure 1).
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