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What if Humans Could Photosynthesize?

When doing lectures on photosynthesis, I ask my students to imagine what it would be like if humans did this process rather than having to eat our food. When we get hungry, simply wander outside, spread arms wide and let the sun do all the work of producing our nourishment.

The process is fascinating, really. Plants have this amazing ability to take the energy from the sun, mix it with some carbon dioxide, and make sugars.



If you look at a plant leaf under a microscope, you can see the individual cells stacked like bricks in a house. And inside these cells are tiny organelles called chloroplasts. It’s within these organelles that the magic of harnessing the sun’s energy to make sugar happens.

What would it be like it humans had chloroplasts like a plant and could photosynthesize? Well, let’s put or imagining-caps on and picture it…

We’d be green, just like a plant. Not sure of the tint since we would also have melanin but we’d definitely have a green hue. *snickers* I can see the Captain Kirk jokes right now…

The process might screw up the amount of gases in the atmosphere. Plants give off the oxygen we require for life and they use the carbon dioxide we give off as waste. If we began photosynthesizing, we would be giving off oxygen and using carbon dioxide, thus robbing plants of the needed material they need to survive. And with humans giving off oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis, we may increase the levels in the atmosphere which might also be bad. Then again, things may go on just as they always have and nothing would change.

But it’s pretty cool to think about though, right?

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6 Comments on “What if Humans Could Photosynthesize?”

  1. Inion N. Mathair March 1, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

    Very cool, Shay. And as cheesy as it may sound, the circle of life has always fascinated me. The way we feed plants with carbon dioxide and they feed us oxygen. Great post!

    • drshaywest March 1, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

      Right??? Always kind of fun to imagine things differently and it gets the students thinking about how their bodies work in a fun and quirky way šŸ˜€

      • Vee Worthy May 6, 2014 at 11:04 am #

        Tam Lindsey has really good sci-fi novel out that explores this very theme, people who mainly eat through photosynthesis. Awesome story. “Botanicaust.”

        • drshaywest May 6, 2014 at 11:07 am #

          Sounds fascinating!!!! It’s always fun to imagine the what ifs when it comes to biology šŸ˜€

  2. cpbialois March 3, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

    Cool idea. You can go a step further and think about what that would mean for the animals of the world as well. Would cows, horses, and such be low in numbers like wolves and other predators for being a potential threat to us if we’d mistaken for other plants? Would they mistake us? I think you may have kicked loose a story idea. lol

    • drshaywest March 6, 2014 at 7:27 am #

      Not only are humans in danger from mountain lions but from moose too! EEEEEEEEKKKKKKKKKK!

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