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Background

Cells, for example, perform a number of important processes. These processes require energy. In photosynthesis , the energy is supplied by the sun. Light energy is absorbed by cells in plant leaves and converted to chemical energy. The chemical energy is stored in the form of glucose, which is used to form complex carbohydrates necessary to build plant mass.

The energy stored in glucose can also be released through cellular respiration.

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This process allows plant and animal organisms to access the energy stored in carbohydrates, lipids, and other macromolecules through the production of ATP. This energy is needed to perform cell functions such as DNA replication, mitosis, meiosis, cell movement, endocytosis, exocytosis, and apoptosis. As with other biological processes, the transfer of energy is not percent efficient.

In photosynthesis, for example, not all of the light energy is absorbed by the plant.

Demonstrate familiarity with the first and second laws of thermodynamics

Some energy is reflected and some is lost as heat. The loss of energy to the surrounding environment results in an increase of disorder or entropy. Unlike plants and other photosynthetic organisms, animals cannot generate energy directly from the sunlight.


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They must consume plants or other animal organisms for energy. The higher up an organism is on the food chain, the less available energy it receives from its food sources. Much of this energy is lost during metabolic processes performed by the producers and primary consumers that are eaten. Therefore, much less energy is available for organisms in higher trophic levels.

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Biological Thermodynamics

The lower the available energy, the less number of organisms can be supported. This is why there are more producers than consumers in an ecosystem. Living systems require constant energy input to maintain their highly ordered state. Cells, for example, are highly ordered and have low entropy. In the process of maintaining this order, some energy is lost to the surroundings or transformed.

The transfer of energy causes entropy in the universe to increase. The transfers and transformations of energy take place around us all the time.

Light bulbs transform electrical energy into light and heat energy. Gas stoves transform chemical energy from natural gas into heat energy. Plants perform one of the most biologically useful energy transformations on earth: that of converting the energy of sunlight to chemical energy stored within organic molecules Figure 2. Some examples of energy transformations are shown in Figure 4.

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The challenge for all living organisms is to obtain energy from their surroundings in forms that they can transfer or transform into usable energy to do work. Living cells have evolved to meet this challenge. Chemical energy stored within organic molecules such as sugars and fats is transferred and transformed through a series of cellular chemical reactions into energy within molecules of ATP adenosine triphosphate. Energy in ATP molecules is easily accessible to do work. Examples of the types of work that cells need to do include building complex molecules, transporting materials, powering the motion of cilia or flagella, and contracting muscle fibers to create movement.

However, the second law of thermodynamics explains why these tasks are harder than they appear.


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All energy transfers and transformations are never completely efficient.