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This picture is an example of early autrophs.
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Image courtesy of Corel Photography

Early Life

Over a very long time, gradual changes in the earliest cells gave rise to new life forms. These new cells were very different from earlier cells because they were able to get their energy from a different source -- the Sun.

Organisms that are able to make their own food by using the energy of the Sun are called autotrophs. Photosynthesis is the name of the process by which these autotrophs eat.

Because the autotrophic bacteria were able to feed themselves by using the energy of the Sun, they were no longer dependent on the same limited food supply as the earliest life and were able to grow and multiply. Over millions of years of evolution, these sun loving bacteria eventually led to modern day plants.

The appearance of organisms capable of photosynthesis was very significant -- if it weren't for the photosynthetic activity of these early bacteria, Earth's air would still be without oxygen and animals which need oxygen, including humans, could never have even begun!

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA