AskDefine | Define chemosynthesis

Dictionary Definition

chemosynthesis n : synthesis of carbohydrate from carbon dioxide and water; limited to certain bacteria and fungi

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. the production of carbohydrates and other compounds from simple compounds such as carbon dioxide, using the oxidation of chemical nutrients as a source of energy rather than sunlight; it is limited to certain bacteria and fungi

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Extensive Definition

Chemosynthesis is the biological conversion of one or more carbon molecules (usually carbon dioxide or methane) and nutrients into organic matter using the oxidation of inorganic molecules (e.g. hydrogen gas, hydrogen sulfide) or methane as a source of energy, rather than sunlight, as in photosynthesis. Large populations of animals can be supported by chemosynthetic primary production at hydrothermal vents, methane clathrates, cold seeps, and whale falls. Chemoautotrophs, organisms that obtain carbon through chemosynthesis, and are responsible for the primary production in oxygen-deficient environments, generally fall into four groups: methanogens, halophiles, sulfur reducers, and thermoacidophiles.
Many microorganisms in dark regions of the oceans use chemosynthesis to produce biomass from 1-carbon molecules. Two categories can be distinguished. In the rare sites at which hydrogen molecules (H2) are available, the energy available from the reaction between CO2 and H2 (leading to production of methane, CH4) can be large enough to drive the production of biomass. Alternatively, in most oceanic environments, energy for chemosynthesis derives from reactions between O2 and substances such as hydrogen sulfide or ammonia. In this second case, the chemosynthetic microorganisms are dependent on photosynthesis which occurs elsewhere and which produces the O2 that they require. Many chemosynthetic microorganisms are consumed by other organisms in the ocean, and symbiotic associations between chemosynthesizers and respiring heterotrophs are quite common.
It has been hypothesized that chemosynthesis may support life below the surface of Mars, Jupiter's moon Europa, and other planets.
Hydrogen sulfide chemosynthesis - CO2+O2+4→CH2O+4+3
Note that the CH2O (carbohydrate) is used as the food source.
Hydrogen sulfide chemosynthesis - 6+6+3→C6H12O6+3

Broader use of term in molecular nanotechnology

The term chemosynthesis is also used in molecular nanotechnology broadly to refer to any chemical synthesis where reactions occur due to random thermal motion, a class which encompasses almost all of modern synthetic chemistry. The human-authored processes of chemical engineering are accordingly represented as biomimicry of the natural phenomena above, and the entire class of non-photosynthetic chains by which complex molecules are constructed is desribed as chemo-.
This form of engineering is then contrasted with mechanosynthesis, a hypothetical process where individual molecules are mechanically manipulated to control reactions to human specification. Since photosynthesis and other natural processes create extremely complex molecules to the specifications contained in RNA and stored long-term in DNA form, advocates of molecular engineering claim that an artificial process can likewise exploit a chain of long-term storage, short-term storage, enzyme-like copying mechanisms similar to those in the cell, and ultimately produce complex molecules which need not be proteins. For instance, sheet diamond or carbon nanotubes could be produced by a chain of non-biological reactions that have been designed using the basic model of biology.
Use of the term chemosynthesis reinforces the view that this is feasible by pointing out that several alternate means of creating complex proteins, mineral shells of mollusks and crustaceans, etc., evolved naturally, not all of them dependent on photosynthesis and a food chain from the sun via chlorophyll. Since more than one such pathway exists to creating complex molecules, even extremely specific ones such as proteins edible to fish, the likelihood of humans being able to design an entirely new one is considered (by these advocates) to be near certainty in the long run, and possible within a generation.


Annoted Reference

  • "The Origin of Life and Evolution." 100 Greatest Discoveries. TVO. CICA, Ottawa. 16 Jan. 2007, 19h00.
Note: This film discusses life, evolution and extinction. For more information see IMDB.
chemosynthesis in Danish: Kemosyntese
chemosynthesis in German: Chemosynthese
chemosynthesis in Spanish: Quimiosíntesis
chemosynthesis in Esperanto: Kemosintezo
chemosynthesis in Latvian: Hemosintēze
chemosynthesis in Macedonian: Хемосинтеза
chemosynthesis in Dutch: Chemosynthese
chemosynthesis in Norwegian: Kjemosyntese
chemosynthesis in Portuguese: Quimiossíntese
chemosynthesis in Russian: Хемосинтез
chemosynthesis in Slovak: Chemosyntéza
chemosynthesis in Serbian: Хемосинтеза
chemosynthesis in Finnish: Kemosynteesi
chemosynthesis in Turkish: Kemosentez
chemosynthesis in Ukrainian: Хемосинтез
chemosynthesis in Chinese: 化能合成作用
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