Assimilation And Digestion

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Sugars produced through photosynthesis may undergo many transformations. Some sugars are used directly in respiration, but others not needed for that purpose may be transformed into lipids, proteins, or other carbohydrates. Among the most important carbohydrates produced from simple sugars are sucrose, starch, and cellulose. Much of the organic matter produced through photosynthesis is eventually used in the building of protoplasm and cell walls. This conversion process is called assimilation.

When photosynthesis is taking place, sugar may be produced faster than it can be used or transported away to other parts of the plant. When this happens, the excess sugar may be converted to large, insoluble molecules, such as starch or oils, temporarily stored in the chloroplasts and then later changed back to a soluble form that is transported to other cells. The conversion of starch and other insoluble carbohydrates to soluble forms is called digestion (Fig. 10.15). The process is nearly always one of hydrolysis, in which water is taken up and, with the aid of enzymes, the links of the chains of simple sugars that comprise the molecules of starch and similar carbohydrates are broken by the addition of water. The disaccharide malt sugar (maltose), for example, is transformed to two molecules of glucose, with the aid of an enzyme (maltase), by the addition of one molecule of water, as follows:

C12H22O11 + H2O maltase 2 C6H^ maltose water (enzyme) glucose

Fats are broken down to their component fatty acids and glycerol, and proteins are digested to their amino acid building blocks in similar fashion. Digestion is carried on in any cell where there may be stored food, with very little energy being released in the process. In animals, special digestive organs also play a role in digestion, but plants have no such additional "help" in the process. In both plants and animals, digestion within cells is similar and is a normal part of metabolism.


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