AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Can Humans use Photosynthesis to “Breathe”?

Throughout our lives we learn that photosynthesis is a way plants “breathe”.  As learned in AP Biology class, plant cells use photosynthesis to make glucose, which is how they “eat”, and a byproduct of this is oxygen.  We also learned that photosynthesis takes place in the chloroplasts and the thylakoid disks, which have a large surface area, making them very productive for the cell.  The process of photosynthesis takes carbon dioxide and uses energy from the sun to produce oxygen and sugar.  While this process has been primarily used in plant cells, what if animal  cells could also use photosynthesis as a way to “breathe”?

German scientists have explored this question and found a way to “introduce algae into [tadpoles] bloodstream to supply oxygen”.  This idea began with a researcher who thought that frog nerve cells could be stimulated using photosynthesis. His hypothesis was tested by putting green algae into the hearts of tadpoles, turning their veins green as it was pumped to their brains.  The researches did this by temporarily pausing the firing of the nerves in their brains before adding the algae.  Only 15-20 minuets later the nerves regained functionality which was “about two times faster than…without the algae”.  The experiment proved that photosynthesis was a “quick, efficient, and reliable” to revive neural activity in tadpoles.


While algae use in tadpoles was proved effective, this does not mean it is a dependable for other animal species yet.  Work is still being conducted to implement this technology for the benefit of humans.  Scientists believe that the use of photosynthesis could potentially be used as a treatment for strokes or other medical situations where oxygen in the body is limited.  First, they need to understand if the use of photosynthesis works for prolonged periods of time, or just momentarily.  The side effects of a process like this also need to be explored.

While the research required is not complete to help humans “breathe” using photosynthesis, scientists are headed in the right direction of a scientific breakthrough that could potentially save lives and help change modern medicine.

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1 Comment

  1. shallele

    I found the experiment with tadpoles particularly interesting. One thing I wonder is how the algae perform photosynthesis inside the veins of the frogs? I found the answer to this question in the article linked ( This species is translucent allowing sunlight to enter the veins where algae was introduced. Humans have opaque skin which makes me curious as to how this process could work in us. This article ( discusses an optical trick which may be a solution to detecting cancerous cells in the body. Maybe similar techniques can be used to allow the algae to perform photosynthesis in an emergency such as a stroke despite the absence of sunlight.

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