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    Photosynthesis Experiments

    Photosynthesis Background Information


    Photosynthesis is a process that converts carbon dioxide into organic compounds, especially sugars, using the energy from sunlight.


    Photosynthesis is a process that converts carbon dioxide into organic compounds, especially sugars using sunlight. Many kinds of algae, plants, protists and bacteria use it to get food. Photosynthesis is very important for life on earth. Most organisms either directly or indirectly depend on it. The exception are certain organisms that directly get their energy from chemical reactions; these organisms are called chemoautotrophs.

    Photosynthesis can happen in different ways, but there are some parts that are common.

    6 CO2 + 6 H2O + photons → C6H12O6 + 6 O2

    carbon dioxide + water + light energy → glucose + oxygen

    Photosynthesis has two main reactions. Light-dependent reactions - which need light to work - and light-independent reactions - which do not need light to work.

    Light-dependent reaction: Light energy from the sun is used to split water (photolysis) which has been sucked in by plants by transpiration. The sunlight hits chloroplasts in the plant, causing an enzyme to break apart the water. Water, when broken, makes oxygen, hydrogen, and electrons. The hydrogen converts to NADPH (a coenzyme that carries electrical energy used in cellular processes) which is then used in the light-independent reactions. Oxygen diffuses out of the plant as a waste product of photosynthesis and ATP (transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism) is synthesised from ADP (the chemical that plants make ATP from, during photosynthesis) and inorganic phosphate. This all happens in the grana of chloroplasts.

    Light-independent reactions: During this reaction, sugars are built up using carbon dioxide and the products of the light-dependent reactions (ATP and NADPH) and various other chemicals found in the plant in the Calvin Cycle. Therefore, the light-independent reaction cannot happen without the light-dependent reaction. Carbon dioxide diffuses into the plant and along with chemicals in the stroma of the chloroplast and ATP and NADPH, glucose is made and finally, transported around the plant by translocation.

    There are three main factors affecting photosynthesis:

    • Light intensity
    • Carbon dioxide concentration
    • Temperature

    Light intensity: If there is little light shining on a plant, the light-dependent reactions will not work efficiently. This means that photolysis will not happen quickly, and therefore little NADPH and ATP will be made. This shortage of NADPH and ATP will lead to the light-independent reactions not working as NADPH and ATP are needed for the light-independent reactions to work.

    Carbon dioxide levels: Carbon dioxide is used in the light-independent reactions. It combines with NADPH and ATP and various other chemicals (such as Ribulose Biphosphate) to form glucose. Therefore, if there isn't enough carbon dioxide, then there will be a build up of NADPH and ATP and not enough glucose will be formed.

    Temperature: There are many enzymes working in photosynthetic reactions - such as the enzyme in photolysis. These enzymes will stop working properly at high or low temperatures and therefore, so will the light-dependent and light-independent reactions.

    Topics of Interest

    Photosynthesis (from Greek: photo = light and synthesis = putting together / composition) is a process that converts carbon dioxide into organic compounds, especially sugars, using the energy from sunlight. Photosynthesis occurs in plants, algae, and many species of Bacteria, but not in Archaea. Photosynthetic organisms are called photoautotrophs, since it allows them to create their own food. In plants, algae and cyanobacteria photosynthesis uses carbon dioxide and water, releasing oxygen as a waste product. Photosynthesis is vital for life on Earth. As well as maintaining the normal level of oxygen in the atmosphere, nearly all life either depends on it directly as a source of energy, or indirectly as the ultimate source of the energy in their food (the exceptions are chemoautotrophs that live in rocks or around deep sea hydrothermal vents). The amount of energy trapped by photosynthesis is immense, approximately 100 terawatts: which is about six times larger than the power consumption of human civilization. As well as energy, photosynthesis is also the source of the carbon in all the organic compounds within organisms' bodies. In all, photosynthetic organisms convert around 100,000,000,000 tonnes of carbon into biomass per year.

    Although photosynthesis can happen in different ways in different species, some features are always the same. For example, the process always begins when energy from light is absorbed by proteins called photosynthetic reaction centers that contain chlorophylls. In plants, these proteins are held inside organelles called chloroplasts, while in bacteria they are embedded in the plasma membrane. Some of the light energy gathered by chlorophylls is stored in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The rest of the energy is used to remove electrons from a substance such as water. These electrons are then used in the reactions that turn carbon dioxide into organic compounds. In plants, algae and cyanobacteria this is done by a sequence of reactions called the Calvin cycle, but different sets of reactions are found in some bacteria, such as the reverse Krebs cycle in Chlorobium. Many photosynthetic organisms have adaptations that concentrate or store carbon dioxide. This helps reduce a wasteful process called photorespiration that can consume part of the sugar produced during photosynthesis.

    Photosynthesis evolved early in the evolutionary history of life, when all forms of life on Earth were microorganisms and the atmosphere had much more carbon dioxide. The first photosynthetic organisms probably evolved about 3,500 million years ago, and used hydrogen or hydrogen sulfide as sources of electrons, rather than water. Cyanobacteria appeared later, around 3,000 million years ago, and changed the Earth forever when they began to oxygenate the atmosphere, beginning about 2,400 million years ago. This new atmosphere allowed the evolution of complex life such as protists. Eventually, no later than a billion years ago, one of these protists formed a symbiotic relationship with a cyanobacterium, producing the ancestor of the plants and algae. The chloroplasts in modern plants are the descendants of these ancient symbiotic cyanobacteria.

    Photosynthetic organisms are photoautotrophs, which means that they are able to synthesize food directly from carbon dioxide using energy from light. However, not all organisms that use light as a source of energy carry out photosynthesis, since photoheterotrophs use organic compounds, rather than carbon dioxide, as a source of carbon. In plants, algae and cyanobacteria, photosynthesis releases oxygen. This is called oxygenic photosynthesis. Although there are some differences between oxygenic photosynthesis in plants, algae and cyanobacteria, the overall process is quite similar in these organisms. However, there are some types of bacteria that carry out anoxygenic photosynthesis, which consumes carbon dioxide but does not release oxygen.

    Carbon dioxide is converted into sugars in a process called carbon fixation. Carbon fixation is a redox reaction, so photosynthesis needs to supply both a source of energy to drive this process, and also the electrons needed to convert carbon dioxide into carbohydrate, which is a reduction reaction. In general outline, photosynthesis is the opposite of cellular respiration, where glucose and other compounds are oxidized to produce carbon dioxide, water, and release chemical energy. However, the two processes take place through a different sequence of chemical reactions and in different cellular compartments.

    Photosynthesis occurs in two stages. In the first stage, light-dependent reactions or light reactions capture the energy of light and use it to make the energy-storage molecules ATP and NADPH. During the second stage, the light-independent reactions use these products to capture and reduce carbon dioxide. Most organisms that utilize photosynthesis to produce oxygen use visible light to do so, although at least three use infrared radiation.

    Chloroplasts are organelles found in plant cells and other eukaryotic organisms that conduct photosynthesis. Chloroplasts capture light energy to conserve free energy in the form of ATP and reduce NADP to NADPH through a complex set of processes called photosynthesis. The word chloroplast is derived from the Greek words chloros, which means green, and plast, which means form or entity. Chloroplasts are members of a class of organelles known as plastids.

    A thylakoid is a membrane-bound compartment inside chloroplasts and cyanobacteria. They are the site of the light-dependent reactions of photosynthesis. The word "thylakoid" is derived from the Greek thylakos, meaning "sac". Thylakoids consists of a thylakoid membrane surrounding a thylakoid lumen. Chloroplast thylakoids frequently form stacks of disks referred to as "grana" (singular: granum). "Grana" is Latin for "stacks of coins". Grana are connected by intergrana or stroma thylakoids, which join granum stacks together as a single functional compartment.

    The light-dependent reactions, or light reactions, are the first stage of photosynthesis. In this process light energy is converted into chemical energy, in the form of the energy-carriers ATP and NADPH. In the light-independent reactions, the formed NADPH and ATP drive the reduction of CO2 to more useful organic compounds, such as glucose.

    Oxygen evolution is the process of generating molecular oxygen through chemical reaction. Mechanisms of oxygen evolution include the oxidation of water during oxygenic photosynthesis, electrolysis of water into oxygen and hydrogen, and electrocatalytic oxygen evolution from oxides and oxoacids.

    Photosynthesis, or the light-independent reactions, are chemical reactions that convert carbon dioxide and other compounds into glucose. These reactions occur in the stroma, the fluid-filled area of a chloroplast outside of the thylakoid membranes. These reactions take the products of the light-dependent reactions and perform further chemical processes on them. There are three phases to the light-independent reactions, collectively called the Calvin Cycle: carbon fixation, reduction reactions, and ribulose 1,5-diphosphate (RuDP) regeneration.

    Carbon fixation refers to any process through which gaseous carbon dioxide is converted into a solid compound. It mostly refers to the processes found in autotrophs (organisms that produce their own food), usually driven by photosynthesis, whereby carbon dioxide is changed into sugars. Carbon fixation can also be carried out by the process of calcification in marine, calcifying organisms such as Emiliania huxleyi and also by heterotrophic organisms in some circumstances.

    The Calvin cycle or Calvin-Benson-Bassham cycle is a series of biochemical reactions that take place in the stroma of chloroplasts in photosynthetic organisms. It was discovered by Melvin Calvin, James Bassham and Andrew Benson at the University of California, Berkeley by using the radioactive element, carbon-14. It is one of the light-independent (dark) reactions, used for carbon fixation.

    C4 carbon fixation is one of three biochemical mechanisms, along with C3 and CAM photosynthesis, functioning in land plants to "fix" carbon dioxide (binding the gaseous molecules to dissolved compounds inside the plant) for sugar production through photosynthesis. C4 fixation is an elaboration of C3 carbon fixation (which operates in most plants), and is believed to have evolved more recently. C4 and CAM overcome the tendency of RuBisCO (the first enzyme in the Calvin cycle) to fix oxygen rather than carbon dioxide, which leads to a loss of energy and carbon in a process called photorespiration. This is achieved by using a more efficient enzyme to fix CO2 in mesophyll cells and shuttling the fixed carbon via malate or oxaloacetate to bundle-sheath cells, where Rubisco is sequestered from atmospheric oxygen and can be saturated with CO2 released by decarboxylation of the malate or oxaloacetate. However, these additional steps require energy in the form of ATP. Because of these tradeoffs, no one of these three photosynthetic pathways is considered superior to the others -- rather, each is best suited to a different set of conditions. The name "C4" comes from the fact that the first product of CO2 fixation in these plants has four carbon atoms, rather than three, as is the case in C3 plants.

    Crassulacean acid metabolism, also known as CAM photosynthesis, is an elaborate carbon fixation pathway in some plants. These plants fix carbon dioxide (CO2) during the night, storing it as the four carbon acid malate. The CO2 is released during the day, where it is concentrated around the enzyme RuBisCO, increasing the efficiency of photosynthesis. The CAM pathway allows stomata to remain shut during the day; therefore it is especially common in plants adapted to arid conditions.

    The photosynthetic efficiency is the fraction of light energy converted into chemical energy during photosynthesis in plants and algae.

    Discovery: Although some of the steps in photosynthesis are still not completely understood, the overall photosynthetic equation has been known since the 1800s.

    There are three main factors affecting photosynthesis and several corollary factors. The three main are:

    • Light irradiance and wavelength
    • Carbon dioxide concentration
    • Temperature.

    Light intensity (irradiance), wavelength and temperature: In the early 1900s Frederick Frost Blackman along with Albert Einstein investigated the effects of light intensity (irradiance) and temperature on the rate of carbon assimilation.

    • At constant temperature, the rate of carbon assimilation varies with irradiance, initially increasing as the irradiance increases. However at higher irradiance this relationship no longer holds and the rate of carbon assimilation reaches a plateau.
    • At constant irradiance, the rate of carbon assimilation increases as the temperature is increased over a limited range. This effect is only seen at high irradiance levels. At low irradiance, increasing the temperature has little influence on the rate of carbon assimilation.

    Carbon dioxide levels and photorespiration As carbon dioxide concentrations rise, the rate at which sugars are made by the light-independent reactions increases until limited by other factors. RuBisCO, the enzyme that captures carbon dioxide in the light-independent reactions, has a binding affinity for both carbon dioxide and oxygen. When the concentration of carbon dioxide is high, RuBisCO will fix carbon dioxide. However, if the carbon dioxide concentration is low, RuBisCO will bind oxygen instead of carbon dioxide. This process, called photorespiration, uses energy, but does not produce sugars.

    Photosynthesis in algae and bacteria: Algae range from multicellular forms like kelp to microscopic, single-celled organisms. Although they are not as complex as land plants, photosynthesis takes place biochemically the same way. Like plants, algae have chloroplasts and chlorophyll, but various accessory pigments are present in some algae such as phycoerythrin in red algae (rhodophytes) , resulting in a wide variety of colours. All algae produce oxygen, and many are autotrophic. However, some are heterotrophic, relying on materials produced by other organisms.

    Photosynthetic bacteria do not have chloroplasts (or any membrane-bound organelles), instead, photosynthesis takes place directly within the cell. Cyanobacteria contain thylakoid membranes very similar to those in chloroplasts and are the only prokaryotes that perform oxygen-generating photosynthesis, in fact chloroplasts are now considered to have evolved from an endosymbiotic bacterium, which was also an ancestor of and later gave rise to cyanobacterium. The other photosynthetic bacteria have a variety of different pigments, called bacteriochlorophylls, and do not produce oxygen. Some bacteria such as Chromatium, oxidize hydrogen sulfide instead of water for photosynthesis, producing sulfur as waste.

    Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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