Schematic of photosynthesis in plants. The carbohydrates produced are stored in or used by the plant.
Overall equation for the type of photosynthesis that occurs in plants
Composite image showing the global distribution of photosynthesis, including both oceanic phytoplankton and terrestrial vegetation. Dark red and blue-green indicate regions of high photosynthetic activity in the ocean and on land, respectively.

Photosynthesis is a process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy into chemical energy that can later be released to fuel the organisms' activities (energy transformation). This chemical energy is stored in carbohydrate molecules, such as sugars, which are synthesized from carbon dioxide and water – hence the name photosynthesis, from the Greek φῶς, phōs, "light", and σύνθεσις, synthesis, "putting together".[1][2][3] In most cases, oxygen is also released as a waste product. Most plants, most algae, and cyanobacteria perform photosynthesis; such organisms are called photoautotrophs. Photosynthesis is largely responsible for producing and maintaining the oxygen content of the Earth's atmosphere, and supplies all of the organic compounds and most of the energy necessary for life on Earth.[4]

Although photosynthesis is performed differently by different species, the process always begins when energy from light is absorbed by proteins called reaction centres that contain green chlorophyll pigments. In plants, these proteins are held inside organelles called chloroplasts, which are most abundant in leaf cells, while in bacteria they are embedded in the plasma membrane. In these light-dependent reactions, some energy is used to strip electrons from suitable substances, such as water, producing oxygen gas. The hydrogen freed by the splitting of water is used in the creation of two further compounds that serve as short-term stores of energy, enabling its transfer to drive other reactions: these compounds are reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the "energy currency" of cells.

In plants, algae and cyanobacteria, long-term energy storage in the form of sugars is produced by a subsequent sequence of light-independent reactions called the Calvin cycle; some bacteria use different mechanisms, such as the reverse Krebs cycle, to achieve the same end. In the Calvin cycle, atmospheric carbon dioxide is incorporated into already existing organic carbon compounds, such as ribulose bisphosphate (RuBP).[5] Using the ATP and NADPH produced by the light-dependent reactions, the resulting compounds are then reduced and removed to form further carbohydrates, such as glucose.

The first photosynthetic organisms probably evolved early in the evolutionary history of life and most likely used reducing agents such as hydrogen or hydrogen sulfide, rather than water, as sources of electrons.[6] Cyanobacteria appeared later; the excess oxygen they produced contributed directly to the oxygenation of the Earth,[7] which rendered the evolution of complex life possible. Today, the average rate of energy capture by photosynthesis globally is approximately 130 terawatts,[8][9][10] which is about three times the current power consumption of human civilization.[11]Photosynthetic organisms also convert around 100–115 thousand million tonnes of carbon into biomass per year.[12][13]


Photosynthesis changes sunlight into chemical energy, splits water to liberate O2, and fixes CO2 into sugar.

Photosynthetic organisms are photoautotrophs, which means that they are able to synthesize food directly from carbon dioxide and water using energy from light. However, not all organisms that use light as a source of energy carry out photosynthesis; photoheterotrophs use organic compounds, rather than carbon dioxide, as a source of carbon.[4] In plants, algae, and cyanobacteria, photosynthesis releases oxygen. This is called oxygenic photosynthesis and is by far the most common type of photosynthesis used by living organisms. Although there are some differences between oxygenic photosynthesis in plants, algae, and cyanobacteria, the overall process is quite similar in these organisms. There are also many varieties of anoxygenic photosynthesis, used mostly by certain types of bacteria, which consume carbon dioxide but do not release oxygen.

Carbon dioxide is converted into sugars in a process called carbon fixation; photosynthesis captures energy from sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into carbohydrate. Carbon fixation is an endothermic redox reaction. In general outline, photosynthesis is the opposite of cellular respiration; in the latter, glucose and other compounds are oxidized to produce carbon dioxide and water, and to release chemical energy (an exothermic reaction) to drive the organism's metabolism. The two processes, reduction of carbon dioxide to carbohydrate and then later oxidation of the carbohydrate, are distinct: photosynthesis and cellular respiration take place through a different sequence of chemical reactions and in different cellular compartments.

The general equation for photosynthesis as first proposed by Cornelis van Niel is therefore:[14]

+ 2H2Aelectron donor + photonslight energy[​CH2O​]carbohydrate + 2Aoxidized
+ H2Owater

Since water is used as the electron donor in oxygenic photosynthesis, the equation for this process is:

+ 2H2Owater + photonslight energy[CH2O]carbohydrate + O2oxygen + H2Owater

This equation emphasizes that water is both a reactant in the light-dependent reaction and a product of the light-independent reaction, but canceling n water molecules from each side gives the net equation:

+ H2O water + photonslight energy[CH2O]carbohydrate + O2 oxygen

Other processes substitute other compounds (such as arsenite) for water in the electron-supply role; for example some microbes use sunlight to oxidize arsenite to arsenate:[15] The equation for this reaction is:

+ (AsO3−

+ photonslight energy(AsO3−

+ COcarbon
(used to build other compounds in subsequent reactions)[16]

Photosynthesis occurs in two stages. In the first stage, light-dependent reactions or light reactions capture the energy of light and use it to make the energy-storage molecules ATP and NADPH. During the second stage, the light-independent reactions use these products to capture and reduce carbon dioxide.

Most organisms that utilize oxygenic photosynthesis use visible light for the light-dependent reactions, although at least three use shortwave infrared or, more specifically, far-red radiation.[17]

Some organisms employ even more radical variants of photosynthesis. Some archaea use a simpler method that employs a pigment similar to those used for vision in animals. The bacteriorhodopsin changes its configuration in response to sunlight, acting as a proton pump. This produces a proton gradient more directly, which is then converted to chemical energy. The process does not involve carbon dioxide fixation and does not release oxygen, and seems to have evolved separately from the more common types of photosynthesis.[18][19]

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