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Name: Shelley
Status: educator
Grade: K-3
Location: MO
Country: USA
Date: Summer 2009

Does a decrease in the amount of oxygen in the air lead to a lower rate of photosynthesis in a plant?

Since photosynthesis consumes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (or sea water) to produce sugars and oxygen, a low level of oxygen in the atmosphere certainly will not slow down photosynthesis. A very high level of oxygen may inhibit the photosynthesis reaction if the pressure of oxygen outside is such that the plant has difficulty in getting rid of its 'waste' oxygen.

Farmers growing in greenhouse atmospheres have found that they can increase the rate of photosynthesis, and make plants grow faster if they increase levels of carbon dioxide within the greenhouse. To achieve this, some farmers have attached feedlines to capture CO2 from furnaces or incinerators or even from diesel generators and pump it into the greenhouses. Even ordinary greenhouses need to be ventilated to prevent the depletion of CO2 which can lead to growth slowing.

Nigel Skelton
Tennant Creek High School

Yes, usually although there are exceptions. The following should be helpful:

Anthony Brach Ph.D.

One of the terms you may look up is photorespiration. This is the process many plants use when oxygen availability is low. It slows down, but does not completely stop sugar production.

Steve Sample

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