Photosynthesis is the process used by plants, algae and certain bacteria to harness energy from sunlight and turn it into chemical energy. Here, we describe the general principles of photosynthesis and highlight how scientists are studying this natural process to help develop clean fuels and sources of renewable energy.
Process of Photosynthesis
There are 2 types of photosynthetic processes: Oxygenic and anoxygenic photosynthesis. The general principles of anoxygenic and oxygenic photosynthesis are very similar, but oxygenic photosynthesis is the most common and is seen in plants, algae and cyanobacteria.
During oxygenic photosynthesis, light energy transfers electrons from water (H2O) to carbon dioxide (CO2), to produce carbohydrates. In this transfer, the CO2 is “reduced,” or receives electrons, and the water becomes “oxidized,” or loses electrons. Ultimately, oxygen is produced along with carbohydrates.
Oxygenic photosynthesis functions as a counterbalance to respiration by taking in the carbon dioxide produced by all breathing organisms and reintroducing oxygen to the atmosphere.
On the other hand, anoxygenic photosynthesis uses electron donors other than water. The process typically occurs in bacteria such as purple bacteria and green sulfur bacteria, which are primarily found in various aquatic habitats.
Though both types are complex, multistep affairs, the overall process can be neatly summarized as a chemical equation.
Oxygenic photosynthesis is written as follows:
6CO2 + 12H2O + Light Energy → C6H12O6 + 6O2 + 6H2O
Here, six molecules of carbon dioxide (CO2) combine with 12 molecules of water (H2O) using light energy. The end result is the formation of a single carbohydrate molecule (C6H12O6, or glucose) along with six molecules each of breathable oxygen and water.
Anoxygenic photosynthesis is written as follows:
CO2 + 2H2A + Light Energy → [CH2O] + 2A + H2O