[ foh-tuh-sin-thuh-sis ]
/ ˌfoʊ təˈsɪn θə sɪs /
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noun Biology, Biochemistry.
the complex process by which carbon dioxide, water, and certain inorganic salts are converted into carbohydrates by green plants, algae, and certain bacteria, using energy from the sun and chlorophyll.
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Origin of photosynthesis

First recorded in 1895–1900; photo- + synthesis

OTHER WORDS FROM photosynthesis

pho·to·syn·thet·ic [foh-tuh-sin-thet-ik], /ˌfoʊ tə sɪnˈθɛt ɪk/, adjectivepho·to·syn·thet·i·cal·ly, adverbnon·pho·to·syn·thet·ic, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

British Dictionary definitions for photosynthesis

/ (ˌfəʊtəʊˈsɪnθɪsɪs) /

(in plants) the synthesis of organic compounds from carbon dioxide and water (with the release of oxygen) using light energy absorbed by chlorophyll
the corresponding process in certain bacteria

Derived forms of photosynthesis

photosynthetic (ˌfəʊtəʊsɪnˈθɛtɪk), adjectivephotosynthetically, adverb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Scientific definitions for photosynthesis

[ fō′tō-sĭnthĭ-sĭs ]

The process by which green plants, algae, diatoms, and certain forms of bacteria make carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water in the presence of chlorophyll, using energy captured from sunlight by chlorophyll, and releasing excess oxygen as a byproduct. In plants and algae, photosynthesis takes place in organelles called chloroplasts. Photosynthesis is usually viewed as a two-step process. First, in the light reactions, the energy-providing molecule ATP is synthesized using light energy absorbed by chlorophyll and accessory pigments such as carotenoids and phycobilins, and water is broken apart into oxygen and a hydrogen ion, with the electron of the hydrogen transferred to another energy molecule, NADPH. The ATP and NADPH molecules power the second part of photosynthesis by the transfer of electrons. In these light-independent or dark reactions, carbon is broken away from carbon dioxide and combined with hydrogen via the Calvin cycle to create carbohydrates. Some of the carbohydrates, the sugars, can then be transported around the organism for immediate use; others, the starches, can be stored for later use. Compare chemosynthesis. See Note at transpiration.

A Closer Look

Almost all life on Earth depends on food made by organisms that can perform photosynthesis, such as green plants, algae, and cyanobacteria. These organisms make carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water using light energy from the Sun. They capture this energy with various pigments which absorb different wavelengths of light. The most important pigment, chlorophyll a, captures mainly blue and red light frequencies, but reflects green light. In plants, the other pigments are chlorophyll b and carotenoids. The carotenoids are usually masked by the green color of chlorophyll, but in temperate environments they can be seen as the bright reds and yellows of autumn after the chlorophyll in the leaves has broken down. The energy gathered by these pigments is passed to chlorophyll a. During the light reactions, the plant uses this energy to break water molecules into oxygen (O2), hydrogen ions, and electrons. The light reactions produce more oxygen than is needed for cellular respiration, so it is released as waste. All of the oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere today was produced as waste by photosynthetic organisms, especially cyanobacteria, which have been producing oxygen for some three billion years, since their first appearance in the Precambrian Eon. During the dark reactions, the plant uses hydrogen ions and the electrons to make carbon dioxide into carbohydrates. Within the leaf of a green plant, photosynthesis takes place in chlorophyll-containing chloroplasts in the columnlike cells of the palisade layer and in the cells of the spongy parenchyma. The cells obtain carbon dioxide from air that enters the leaf through holes called stomata, which also allow excess oxygen to escape. Water from the roots is brought to the leaf by the vascular tissues called xylem, while the carbohydrates made by the leaf are distributed to the rest of the plant by the vascular tissue called phloem.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Cultural definitions for photosynthesis


Use by green plants of the energy in sunlight to carry out chemical reactions, such as the conversion of carbon dioxide into oxygen. Photosynthesis also produces the sugars that feed the plant.

notes for photosynthesis

Green plants depend on chlorophyll to carry out photosynthesis.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.