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photosynthesis

Introduction

photosynthesis (fōˌtōsĭnˈthəsĭs) [key], process in which green plants, algae, and cyanobacteria utilize the energy of sunlight to manufacture carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water in the presence of chlorophyll. Some of the plants that lack chlorophyll, e.g., the Indian pipe, secure their nutrients from organic material, as do animals, and a few bacteria manufacture their own carbohydrates with hydrogen and energy obtained from inorganic compounds (e.g., hydrogen sulfide) in a process called chemosynthesis. However, the vast majority of plants contain chlorophyll—concentrated, in the higher land plants, in the leaves.

In these plants water is absorbed by the roots and carried to the leaves by the xylem, and carbon dioxide is obtained from air that enters the leaves through the stomata and diffuses to the cells containing chlorophyll. The green pigment chlorophyll is uniquely capable of converting the active energy of light into a latent form that can be stored (in food) and used when needed.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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