80 Chapter Summary

8.1 Overview of Photosynthesis

The process of photosynthesis transformed life on Earth. By harnessing energy from the sun, the evolution of photosynthesis allowed living things access to enormous amounts of energy. Because of photosynthesis, living things gained access to sufficient energy that allowed them to build new structures and achieve the biodiversity evident today.

Only certain organisms (photoautotrophs), can perform photosynthesis; they require the presence of chlorophyll, a specialized pigment that absorbs certain wavelengths of the visible spectrum and can capture energy from sunlight. Photosynthesis uses carbon dioxide and water to assemble carbohydrate molecules and release oxygen as a byproduct into the atmosphere. Eukaryotic autotrophs, such as plants and algae, have organelles called chloroplasts in which photosynthesis takes place and starch accumulates. In prokaryotes, such as cyanobacteria, the process is less localized and occurs within folded membranes, extensions of the plasma membrane, and in the cytoplasm.

8.2 The Light-Dependent Reactions of Photosynthesis

The pigments of the first part of photosynthesis, the light-dependent reactions, absorb energy from sunlight. A photon strikes the antenna pigments of photosystem II to initiate photosynthesis. The energy travels to the reaction center that contains chlorophyll a and then to the electron transport chain, which pumps hydrogen ions into the thylakoid interior. This action builds up a high concentration of hydrogen ions. The hydrogen ions flow through ATP synthase during chemiosmosis to form molecules of ATP, which are used for the formation of sugar molecules in the second stage of photosynthesis. Photosystem I absorbs a second photon, which results in the formation of an NADPH molecule, another energy and reducing carrier for the light-independent reactions.

8.3 Using Light Energy to Make Organic Molecules

Using the energy carriers formed in the first steps of photosynthesis, the light-independent reactions, or the Calvin cycle, take in CO2 from the atmosphere. An enzyme, RuBisCO, catalyzes a reaction with CO2 and another organic compound, RuBP. After three cycles, a three-carbon molecule of G3P leaves the cycle to become part of a carbohydrate molecule. The remaining G3P molecules stay in the cycle to be regenerated into RuBP, which is then ready to react with more CO2. Photosynthesis forms an energy cycle with the process of cellular respiration. Because plants contain both chloroplasts and mitochondria, they rely upon both photosynthesis and respiration for their ability to function in both the light and dark, and to be able to interconvert essential metabolites.

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Biology 2e Part I, 2nd edition Copyright © 2022 by LOUIS: The Louisiana Library Network is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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