A heterotrophic organism (or heterotroph) can obtain its food from other organisms in three ways. So, the heterotrophic mode of nutrition is of three types:
1. Saprotrophic nutrition :
2. Parasitic nutrition, and
3. Holozoic nutrition.
We will now discuss the three types of heterotrophic nutrition in detail, one by one. Let us start with the saprotrophic nutrition.
1. Saprotrophic Nutrition (or Saprophytic Nutrition) :
Saprotrophic nutrition is that nutrition in which an organism obtains its food from decaying organic matter of dead plants, dead animals and rotten bread, etc. ‘Sapro’ means ‘rotten’, so a saprotrophic organism draws its food from rotting wood of dead and decaying trees, rotten leaves, dead animals and household wastes like rotten bread, etc.
The organisms having saprotrophic mode of nutrition are called saprophytes. We can now say that: Saprophytes are the organisms which obtain their food from dead plants (like rotten leaves), dead and decaying animal bodies, and other decaying organic matter (like rotten bread).
Fungi (like bread moulds, mushrooms, yeast), and many bacteria are saprophytes. We know that fungi and bacteria are a kind of plants. So, we can also say that saprophytes are the plants which feed on dead and decaying organic matter.
The saprophytes break down the complex organic molecules present in dead and decaying matter and convert them into simpler substances outside their body. These simpler substances are then absorbed by saprophytes as their food. Please note that saprotrophic nutrition is also known as saprophytic nutrition.
2. Parasitic Nutrition :
The parasitic nutrition is that nutrition in which an organism derives its food from the body of another living organism (called its host) without killing it. The organism which obtains the food is called a ‘parasite’, and the organism from whose body food is obtained is called the ‘host’. We can now say that: A parasite is an organism (plant or animal) which feeds on another living organism called its host.
A parasite receives its food from the host but gives no benefit to the host in return. A parasite usually harms the host. The host may be a plant or an animal. Most of the diseases which affect mankind his domestic animals (like dogs and cattle) and his crops are caused by parasites. Parasitic mode of nutrition is observed in several fungi, bacteria, a few plants like Cuscuta (amarbel) some animals like Plasmodium and roundworms.
Thus, the micro-organism ‘Plasmodium’ (which causes malaria disease) is a parasite. Roundworm which causes diseases in man and domestic animals (like dogs and cattle) is also a parasite. Roundworms live inside the body of man and his domestic animals. Several fungi and bacteria, and plants like Cuscuta (amarbel) are also parasites. Some other examples of parasites are ticks, lice, leeches and tapeworms.
3. Holozoic Nutrition :
‘Holozoic nutrition’ means ‘feeding on solid food’ (which may be a plant product or an animal product). Most of the animals (including human beings) take the solid food into their body by the process of ingestion. The ingested food is then digested (broken down) into simpler substances which are then absorbed into the cells of the body. And the undigested and unabsorbed waste materials are egested (thrown out) of the body.
We can now say that: The holozoic nutrition is that nutrition in which an organism takes the complex organic food materials into its body by the process of ingestion; the ingested food is digested and then absorbed into the body cells of the organism.
The undigested and unabsorbed part of the food is thrown out of the body of the organism by the process of egestion. The human beings and most of the animals have a holozoic mode of nutrition. In other words, man, cat, dog, cattle, deer, tiger, lion, bear, giraffe, frog, fish and Amoeba, etc., have the holozoic mode of nutrition.
Nutrition in Plants :
Just like other organisms, plants also require food which can supply energy for their various metabolic activities. Though animals can move from one place to another in search of food, plants just stand still at one place and make their own food. Green plants are autotrophic and synthesize their own food by the process of photosynthesis. ‘Photo’ means ‘light’ and ‘synthesis’ means ‘to build’, thus ‘photosynthesis’ means ‘building up by light’.
The plants use the energy in sunlight to prepare food from carbon dioxide and water in the presence of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is present in the green coloured bodies called ‘chloroplasts’ inside the plant cells.
In fact, the leaves of a plant are green because they contain tiny green coloured organelles called chloroplasts (which contain chlorophyll). Keeping these points in mind, we can now define the process of photosynthesis as follows:
The process, by which green plants make their own food (like glucose) from carbon dioxide and water by using sunlight energy in the presence of chlorophyll, is called photosynthesis. Oxygen gas is released during photosynthesis. The process of photosynthesis can be represented as:
The process of photosynthesis takes place in the green leaves of a plant. In other words, food is made in the green leaves of the plant. The green leaves of a plant make the food by combining carbon dioxide and water in the presence of sunlight and chlorophyll.
The carbon dioxide gas required for making food is taken by the plant leaves from the air. This carbon dioxide enters the leaves through tiny pores in them called stomata. Water required for making food is taken from the soil. This water is transported to the leaves from the soil through the roots and stem.
The sunlight provides energy required to carry out the chemical reactions involved in the preparation of food. The green pigment called chlorophyll present in green leaves helps in absorbing energy from sunlight. Oxygen gas is produced as a by-product during the preparation of food by photosynthesis. This oxygen gas goes into the air. Green plants make their own food by photosynthesis.
The food prepared by the green leaves of a plant is in the form of a simple sugar called glucose. This glucose food made in the leaves is then sent to the different parts of the plant. The extra glucose is changed into another food called starch. This starch is stored in the leaves of the plant. Glucose and starch belong to a category of foods called carbohydrates. The foods like carbohydrates prepared by photosynthesis contain chemical energy stored in them. Thus, the green plants convert sunlight energy into chemical energy by making carbohydrates (foods).
The food prepared by photosynthesis provides all the energy to a plant which it needs to grow. And when we eat plant foods (like food grains, fruits and vegetables), the chemical energy stored in them is released in our body during respiration.
We will now describe what actually happens during the process of photosynthesis. The photosynthesis takes place in the following three steps:
(i) Absorption of sunlight energy by chlorophyll.
(ii) Conversion of light energy into chemical energy, and splitting of water in to hydrogen and oxygen by light energy.
(iii) Reduction of carbon dioxide by hydrogen to form carbohydrate like glucose by utilising the chemical energy (obtained by the transformation of light energy).
Please note that the three steps involved in photosynthesis need not take place one after the other immediately. They can take place at different times. For example, desert plants take up carbon dioxide at night and prepare an intermediate product which is acted upon by the sunlight energy absorbed by chlorophyll when the sun shines during the next day.