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Photosynthesis vs. Cellular respiration
Photosynthesis and cellular respiration are complementary processes by which living
things obtain needed substances. They both consume and create the same substances
(water, glucose, oxygen, and carbon dioxide) but in different ways. Through these
processes, plants obtain the carbon dioxide they need and living organisms obtain the
oxygen they need. They are also necessary to the energy exchange that living things
need to survive.
Photosynthesis is the process by which green plants create their own food by turning
light energy into chemical energy. Chlorophyll in the leaves transform carbon dioxide,
water, and minerals into oxygen and glucose. Photosynthesis takes place in the
chloroplasts of cells. This process is what gives energy to all living organisms either
directly or indirectly. Without it, life on Earth would cease to exist.
Cellular respiration, on the other hand, is the process by which living things convert
oxygen and glucose to carbon dioxide and water, thereby yielding energy. It does not
require the presence of sunlight and is always occurring in living organisms. Cellular
respiration takes place in the mitochondria of cells.
While photosynthesis requires energy and produces food, cellular respiration breaks
down food and releases energy. Plants perform both photosynthesis and respiration,
while animals can only perform respiration.
How are respiration and photosynthesis related?
During photosynthesis, a plant is able to convert solar energy into a chemical form. It
does this by capturing light coming from the sun and, through a series of reactions,
using its energy to help build a sugar molecule called glucose. Glucose is made of six
carbon atoms, six oxygen atoms, and twelve hydrogen atoms. When the plant makes the
glucose molecule, it gets the carbon and oxygen atoms it needs from carbon dioxide,
which it takes from the air. Carbon dioxide doesn't have any hydrogen in it, though, so
the plant must use another source for hydrogen. The source that it uses is water. There
is a lot of water on the earth, and every water molecule is composed of two hydrogen
atoms and one oxygen atom. In order to take the hydrogen it needs to build glucose
molecules, the plant uses the energy from the sun to break the water molecule apart,
taking electrons and hydrogen from it and releasing the oxygen into the air. The
electrons it takes are put into an electron transport system, where they are used to
produce energy molecules called ATP that are used to build the glucose molecule-- all
made possible by the sun's energy. Thus, during photosynthesis a plant consumes water,
carbon dioxide, and light energy, and produces glucose and oxygen.
The sugar glucose is important because it is necessary for cellular respiration. During
cellular respiration, the chemical energy in the glucose molecule is converted into a form
that the plant can use for growth and reproduction. In the first step of respiration, called
glycolysis, the glucose molecule is broken down into two smaller molecules called
pyruvate, and a little energy is released in the form of ATP. This step in respiration does
not require any oxygen and is therefore called anaerobic respiration. In the second step
of respiration, the pyruvate molecules are rearranged and combined and rearranged
again in a cycle. While the molecules are being rearranged in this cycle, carbon dioxide
is produced, and electrons are pulled off and passed into an electron transport system
which, just as in photosynthesis, generates a lot of ATP for the plant to use for growth
and reproduction. This last step requires oxygen, and therefore is called aerobic
respiration. Thus, the final result of cellular respiration is that the plant consumes
glucose and oxygen and produces carbon dioxide, water, and ATP energy molecules.
At first, this doesn't seem to make any sense! If the plant can use the energy from the
sun to make ATP, why does it go through all the trouble of then using up the ATP to make
glucose, just so it can get ATP again? There are two reasons why the plant does this.
First, in addition to ATP, the plant needs materials to grow. Glucose is an important
building block that is necessary to produce all of the proteins, DNA, cells, tissues, etc.
that are important to life, growth, and reproduction. Second, one problem with the sun is
that it goes away every night, and during winter it isn't very bright. The plant needs
energy all of the time. So, by producing glucose, the plant can store this molecule and
then use it to produce energy during the night and over winter when there isn't enough
sun to provide good photosynthesis.
It is very interesting how photosynthesis and cellular respiration help each other. During
photosynthesis, the plant needs carbon dioxide and water-- both of which are released
into the air during respiration. And during respiration, the plant needs oxygen and
glucose, which are both produced through photosynthesis! So in a way, the products of
photosynthesis support respiration, and the products of respiration support
photosynthesis, forming a cycle.
While plants can complete this cycle by themselves, animals cannot, since animals
aren't capable of photosynthesis! This means that animals have to survive solely
through respiration. Also, since we animals can't produce glucose by ourselves, we have
to get it from somewhere else-- from eating plants. We produce carbon dioxide that the
plants need, and they produce the oxygen that we need, and then we eat them to get
the glucose that we need. It seems that we need the plants a lot more than they need
How are photosynthesis and cellular respiration related?
The relationship between photosynthesis and cellular respiration is such that the
products of one process are the reactants of the other. Photosynthesis is the process
whereby carbon dioxide and water react, using energy from sunlight, to produce glucose
and oxygen. In cellular respiration, the glucose combines with oxygen to produce carbon
These two cycles depend on one another for the entire cycle to take place, which
ensures that life continues to survive. Photosynthesis provides oxygen for all living
organisms and for the process of cellular respiration. Cellular respiration requires oxygen
to make adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which is a high-energy molecule. It also
releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is used by plants and bacteria to
process carbon dioxide back into oxygen.
Photosynthesis is used by plants and other organisms to convert sun energy to chemical
energy. This chemical energy is stored in the form of glucose, which is used to provide
energy for organisms. This energy stored in plants is harvested through cellular
respiration to form ATP, which provides energy needed for many biological processes,
such as muscle contraction and synthesizing molecules.
The life cycle of photosynthesis and cellular respiration sustains life on earth. Both are
required to exist in symbiosis. Cellular respiration cannot occur without photosynthesis,
and vice versa.