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Plant, any member of the plant kingdom, comprising about 260,000 known species of mosses, liverworts, ferns, herbaceous and woody plants, bushes, vines, trees, and various other forms that mantle the Earth and are also found in its waters. Plants range in size and complexity from small, nonvascular mosses, which depend on direct contact with surface water, to giant sequoia trees, the largest living organisms, which can draw water and minerals through their vascular systems to elevations of more than 100 m (330 ft).. read more

How Photosynthesis Works

Photosynthesis
Photosynthesis is a very complex process, and for the sake of convenience and ease of understanding, plant biologists divide it into two stages. In the first stage, the light-dependent reaction, the chloroplast traps light energy and converts it into chemical energy contained in nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP), two molecules used in the second stage of photosynthesis. In the second stage, called the light-independent reaction (formerly called the dark reaction), NADPH provides the hydrogen atoms that help form glucose, and ATP provides the energy for this and other reactions used to synthesize glucose. These two stages reflect the literal meaning of the term photosynthesis, to build with light.

A - The Light-Dependent Reaction

Photosynthesis relies on flows of energy and electrons initiated by light energy. Electrons are minute particles that travel in a specific orbit around the nuclei of atoms and carry a small electrical charge. Light energy causes the electrons in chlorophyll and other light-trapping pigments to boost up and out of their orbit; the electrons instantly fall back into place, releasing resonance energy, or vibrating energy, as they go, all in millionths of a second. Chlorophyll and the other pigments are clustered next to one another in the photosystems, and the vibrating energy passes rapidly from one chlorophyll or pigment molecule to the next, like the transfer of energy in billiard balls.

Light contains many colors, each with a defined range of wavelengths measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter. Certain red and blue wavelengths of light are the most effective in photosynthesis because they have exactly the right amount of energy to energize, or excite, chlorophyll electrons and boost them out of their orbits to a higher energy level. Other pigments, called accessory pigments, enhance the light-absorption capacity of the leaf by capturing a broader spectrum of blue and red wavelengths, along with yellow and orange wavelengths. None of the photosynthetic pigments absorb green light; as a result, green wavelengths are reflected, which is why plants appear green.

B - The Light-Independent Reaction

The chemical energy required for the light-independent reaction is supplied by the ATP and NADPH molecules produced in the light-dependent reaction. The light-independent reaction is cyclic, that is, it begins with a molecule that must be regenerated at the end of the reaction in order for the process to continue. Termed the Calvin cycle after the American chemist Melvin Calvin who discovered it, the light-independent reactions use the electrons and hydrogen ions associated with NADPH and the phosphorus associated with ATP to produce glucose. These reactions occur in the stroma, the fluid in the chloroplast surrounding the thylakoids, and each step is controlled by a different enzyme.

The light-independent reaction requires the presence of carbon dioxide molecules, which enter the plant through pores in the leaf, diffuse through the cell to the chloroplast, and disperse in the stroma. The light-independent reaction begins in the stroma when these carbon dioxide molecules link to sugar molecules called ribulose bisphosphate (RuBP) in a process known as carbon fixation.


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