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carbon assimilation

The first oxygenic (oxygen-producing) cells probably were the blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), which appeared about two billion to three billion years ago. These microscopic organisms are believed to have greatly increased the oxygen content of the atmosphere, making possible the development of aerobic (oxygen-using) organisms. Cyanophytes are prokaryotic cells; that is, they contain no distinct membrane-enclosed subcellular particles (organelles), such as nucleiand chloroplasts. Green plants, by contrast, are composed of eukaryotic cells, in which the photosynthetic apparatus is contained within membrane-bound chloroplasts. The complete genome sequences of cyanobacteria and higher plants provide evidence that the first photosynthetic eukaryotes were likely the red algae that developed when nonphotosynthetic eukaryotic cells engulfed cyanobacteria. Within the host cells, these cyanobacteria evolved into chloroplasts.

There are a number of photosynthetic bacteria that are not oxygenic (e.g., the sulfur bacteria previously discussed). The evolutionary pathway that led to these bacteria diverged from the one that resulted in oxygenic organisms. In addition to the absence of oxygen production, nonoxygenic photosynthesis differs from oxygenic photosynthesis in two other ways: light of longer wavelengths is absorbed and used by pigments called bacteriochlorophylls, and reduced compounds other than water (such as hydrogen sulfide or organic molecules) provide the electrons needed for the reduction of carbon dioxide.