Biology Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

The post-apocalyptic science fiction novel Dark Universe by Daniel F. Galouye has some plants living inside bunkers that use infrared light for photosynthesis. There are speculations that extraterrestrial plants might use the same trick on planets orbiting red dwarfs and that their leaves would be totally black. Would this type of photosynthesis be possible and are there any plants on low-light environments from Earth that might do this already?

share|improve this question
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I would hardly ever say never where biology is concerned. In this case that utilizing red rather than blue light for a plant would require many of the basic assumptions of photosynthesis in terrestrial plants to be revised, but since we're talking about another planet, that might not really be an issue.

If we are asking only about how we could change our plants to work with IR light, I'd say that might take a few hundred million years of selection and its harder to imagine.

Firstly photosynthesis in another planet doesn't have to fix carbon or produce oxygen - both of these chemical processes utilize the relatively greater energy produced in blue and red light photosynthesis we see in plants here.

Secondly using IR would have its particular questions associated with it. In this case the energy quanta are very small and in fact in the same range as chemical bond vibrational energies. Such energy might be hard to capture with any efficiency since simple heat would tend to compete with the photon, so this would work better if the entire system were at a relatively low temperature.

The leaves could be black or they could be completely clear by the way.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.