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Discovery Magazine 11/1/2005

Do You Want Pickles With That?

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

“I’ll have a large cheeseburger, a large order of French fries, a large coke, and a chocolate milkshake.” This order has probably been placed by many people as they pull up to drive-thru windows. But how many plants have made a similar order at a fast-food restaurant? Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that plants require food just like humans, but they’re unable to walk down to a local cafeteria and place their order? So exactly how do most plants get their food? Plants use a process known as photosynthesis to change the energy from sunlight into sugar, which they can then use as food. Photosynthesis may seem like a long scientific word, but it simply means “putting together with light.” Without this unique process, life for humans would cease to exist! That long word is extremely important in providing humans with food to eat and oxygen to breathe.
God designed plants so that they get their food requirements from the environment. They do not shop or cook a meal. They are their own “food-factories.” In order to make food, they need light energy from the Sun, carbon dioxide (CO2) from our atmosphere, and water (H2O). The overall chemical reaction involved in photosynthesis is: 6CO2 + 6H2O (+ light energy)èC6H12O6 + 6O2. This special equation tells us that when six carbon dioxide molecules are added to six water molecules in the presence of sunlight, the plant is able to make a large sugar molecule (glucose) and it gives off oxygen to the atmosphere. God designed the needs of humans and plants to compliment each other. Plants need carbon dioxide and they give off oxygen. Humans, on the other hand, need oxygen and give off (breathe out) carbon dioxide. In addition, plants are also able to absorb minerals from the ground. Because they are able to get everything they need from the environment, plants never need to visit a grocery store.
The process of photosynthesis takes place primarily in the leaves. The leaves contain cells which have special organelles called chloroplasts. Inside these disk-shaped structures is a green chemical called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the pigment that gives the leaves their green color. This colored pigment allows the cell to absorb the sunlight needed for photosynthesis to occur. Chlorophyll traps light energy which is then used to make sugar for the plant. Plants can make enough sugar on sunny days to make it through the night, as well as cloudy or rainy days. However, they are unable to keep large amounts of these sugar molecules stored up. Thus, God designed plants with the ability to convert that sugar into a starch that can be easily stored away. That way, when plants need extra food, they can turn the starch back into glucose. Plants are able to store starch in leaves or other parts of the plant.
There are two parts to photosynthesis: a light reaction and a dark reaction. The light reaction is responsible for converting light energy from the Sun into chemical energy. After chlorophyll absorbs sunlight it is transferred into chemical energy by forming a chemical called ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a compound that will be used to provide energy for the dark reaction. The dark reaction then completes the process by converting available CO2 into sugar. This reaction does not require energy from sunlight, and can take place at night.
As days grow colder and fall approaches, plants slowly begin to shut down their food-making factories. God designed many plants to be able to live off the food they stored during the summer. The green chlorophyll disappears from the leaves as the trees prepare to rest through the winter. As the bright green color fades away, the leaves turn yellow and orange. These colors have always been there, but they were masked by the green chlorophyll. The bright reds and purples we see are caused by sugars that are left in the leaf. Sunlight and the cool nights of autumn turn this glucose into a red color.
The process that plants use to create food is amazing! This incredibly complex process requires special organelles (chloroplasts) and special light absorbing pigments (chlorophyll). Evolution cannot explain the origin or extraordinary existence of these cellular components. They were purposefully designed and arranged by Almighty God. The existence of plants is the handiwork of our Intelligent Designer.

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