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Chemosynthesis is the biological conversion of 1 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{H2S}→CH2O+4{S}+3{H2O}

Note that the CH2O (carbohydrate) is used as the food source.

Hydrogen sulfide chemosynthesis - 6{CO2}+6{H2O}+3{H2S}→C6H12O6+3{H2SO4}

Molecular nanotechnology

The term chemosynthesis is also used in molecular nanotechnology to refer to any chemical synthesis where reactions occur due to random thermal motion, a class which encompasses almost all of modern synthetic chemistry. This is contrasted with mechanosynthesis, a hypothetical process where individual molecules are mechanically manipulated to control reactions.


  • "The Origin of Life and Evolution." 100 Greatest Discoveries. TVO. CICA, Ottawa. 16 Jan. 2007, 19h00. This film discusses life, evolution and extinction. For more information see IMDB.

See also


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