Question Video: Identifying Decomposers Chemistry

What is the name given to an organism that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by breaking down dead organic material? [A] scavenger [B] decomposer [C] composter [D] carbon dioxider [E] decayer

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Video Transcript

What is the name given to an organism that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by breaking down dead organic material? (A) Scavenger, (B) decomposer, (C) composter, (D) carbon dioxider, or (E) decayer.

An organism that breaks down dead organic material and releases carbon dioxide is part of one of the key steps in the carbon cycle. The four main processes in the carbon cycle are photosynthesis, respiration, decomposition, and combustion. In photosynthesis, carbon dioxide is removed from the air. This happens in green plants, algae, some bacteria, and phytoplankton. 6CO2 molecules react with six water molecules, and sunlight energy is used to convert these into glucose, C6H12O6, and six oxygen molecules.

The carbon from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is incorporated into organic molecules inside the plants. In the other three main processes of the carbon cycle, carbon dioxide gas is released to the air. Their equations are very similar. They all involve a carbon compound reacting with oxygen to produce CO2 and water, as well as energy or molecules which transfer energy. The question asks about the release of carbon dioxide. So, we know the question is not talking about photosynthesis, and we can eliminate it. The question asks about the breaking down of dead organic material.

Let’s look at the remaining three processes to see which one involves the breaking down of dead organic matter. Respiration is a process which occurs in every living cell with a plant or animal. The purpose is to produce ATP molecules from food, and ATP delivers energy to drive cellular processes. Decomposition occurs in decomposer organisms. Decomposition is a type of respiration where dead organic material is the food for the decomposer organism. Combustion, though it has a similar equation to respiration and decomposition, is a human activity. Combustion is the burning of fuel, such as fossil fuels, for example, coal, oil, and natural gas. So, we can see that an organism that releases carbon dioxide by breaking down dead organic material is a decomposer.

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