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Powered by sunlight, green plants convert CO2 and water into carbohydrates by a process called photosynthesis. The emergence of this metabolic pathway was a key event in the evolution of life. Photosynthesizing organisms, called autotrophs ("self-feeders"), use solar energy to make their own food from simple chemicals in the environment. In this way, they provide an entry point to the biosphere for chemical energy. Heterotrophs ("other-feeders") cannot photosynthesize, and they depend on autotrophs (or other heterotrophs) for the raw materials of metabolism, such as glucose.

The "food chain" from autotrophs to heterotrophs requires a lot of photosynthesis. On the African plain, it takes 6 acres of grassland to convert enough CO2 into plant matter to support the growth of one gazelle that consumes the grass. Globally, more than 10 billion tons of carbon is fixed—converted from being part of a simple gas (CO2) into a more complex molecule (carbohydrate)—by plants every year. This huge amount of photosynthetically-fixed carbon is available for use by all species that need it.

Humans consume a huge amount of Earth's photosynthetic output. Recent calculations of total plant growth in agriculture, pastures, and forests and the products consumed by people indicate that one-third of all the carbon fixed annually is appropriated by humans, leaving two-thirds for the entire remainder of the biosphere. This is by far the greatest proportion of consumption for any single species in known history, Is this situation sustainable? Conferences such as the 2002 United Nations Conference on Sustainability have demonstrated concern for our photosynthetic future.

An important first step in examining ecological sustainability is a thorough understanding of photosynthesis. The process of photosynthesis can be neatly broken down into two steps. The first step is the conversion of energy from light to chemical bonds in reduced electron carriers and ATP. In the second step, these two sources of chemical energy are used to drive the synthesis of carbohydrates from carbon dioxide. In this chapter, we will examine these two processes and show how they are related to each other and to plant growth.

Primary Producers Plants, through photosynthesis, are the basis of life on Earth. The energy stored in these soybeans being cultivated on a farm in Kansas will be harvested and used by human beings.

Primary Producers Plants, through photosynthesis, are the basis of life on Earth. The energy stored in these soybeans being cultivated on a farm in Kansas will be harvested and used by human beings.

Producers Plants

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