Photosynthesis is a biochemical process that plants, algae, and some bacteria use to create food and release oxygen into Earth’s atmosphere. We recently pointed out even some sea slugs can use photosynthesis. Complex photosynthesis and life defy accidental explanation.
Chlorophyll is the molecule that drives the process. There are two chemical reactions–one dependent on light and one independent of light. In the light-dependent reaction, sunlight enters the plant and energizes the chlorophyll. The chlorophyll splits water into hydrogen and oxygen and feeds electrons into nearby molecules. The oxygen escapes and the hydrogen is used later. The freed electrons make a molecule called ATP, which fuels cellular functions. With more sunlight, a molecule called NADP is produced.
In the light-independent reaction, NADP combines with the freed hydrogen to make a larger molecule called NADPH. These components, NADPH, ATP, and an enzyme called RuBisCCo, create sugars and other carbohydrates using carbon dioxide and water in a complex chemical process called the Calvin-Benson cycle.
Chlorophyll uses light in the blue and red part of the spectrum, reflecting green light, which is why trees and grass are green. Photosynthesis takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and forms the foundation of all food chains on Earth.
We have vastly oversimplified this explanation of complex photosynthesis and life. To believe that it could have happened by chance requires profound faith in luck. Photosynthesis reflects the wisdom of the Creator, who used some incredibly complex processes to establish life on this planet.
The beauty of autumn’s brilliant colors is an amazing testimony to the creative wisdom of God as well as an expression of His love of beauty. The colors of fall are caused by several pigments and the interaction of sunlight and sugar.
Most of us know that chlorophyll makes leaves green. When leaves receive reduced sunlight in the fall, they also have a reduced supply of nutrients and water, causing the chlorophyll to be removed. The chlorophyll masks two pigments that have different colors. Carotene is yellow, and several varieties of anthocyanins are red. Many leaves contain tannin, which is brown and is dominant in oak trees. Sunlight acting on trapped sugar also produces anthocyanins with various sparkling colors, which is why the color is so spectacular on a sunny autumn day in a maple forest.
As the days grow shorter, the reduced amount of sunlight causes a corky wall called the “abscission layer” to form between the twig and the leaf stalk. This wall will eventually break and cause the leaf to drop off in the breeze. The corky material seals off the vessels that supplied the leaf with nutrients and water and blocks any loss of sugars from the plant.
What is especially interesting is that the leaf colors are not all the same. Some vines produce spectacular colors. Poison ivy takes on a beautiful red due to a high concentration of anthocyanin. Aspen has a high concentration of carotene producing the vivid yellows which dominate the woods in the Rocky Mountains. In Michigan, we have maples, gum, aspen, and oak, giving us spectacular colors that vary from one location to another.
The colors of fall are a great testimony to the fact that God paid attention to aesthetics in the creation. If survival of the fittest were the only criteria for choosing the chemicals that allow plants to survive, it seems that there would be one best choice. Different chemicals provide a vivid, beautiful splash of color for humans to enjoy. Beauty is not part of the evolutionary model, but it speaks of God’s creativity, giving us a wonderful and beautiful world in which to live.
Have you ever wondered how animals that live near Earth’s North and South Poles survive? What do they eat, and how can any kind of food chain exist? The answer to this is ice algae.
Unlike most plants, algae do not have flowers, roots, stems, leaves, or vascular tissue. However, ice algae, like most plants, provide the starting point for a food chain. In this case, it is a food chain in very cold places. Tiny krill, penguins, seals, polar bears, and blue whales all depend on ice algae to survive. In 2016 Dr. Thomas Brown of the Scottish Association for Marine Science studied polar bears and found that 86% of the polar bears’ nutrition came from a food chain that originated with ice algae.
Ice algae have chlorophyll so they can use whatever light is available for photosynthesis. There are a variety of types of algae that live in different conditions. Some live on the surface of the ocean, some on the floor of the ocean, and some in or on the ice itself. Ice algae produce fatty acids which supply nutritional value for animals that live in what would otherwise be a nutritional void. Because there is ice algae, animal life is abundant under, in, and around the ice at both poles.