Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 73, Issue 1, pp 7-10

First online:

History of the word photosynthesis and evolution of its definition

  • Howard GestAffiliated withDepartment of Biology and Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Indiana University

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In 1893, Charles Barnes (1858–1910) proposed that the biological process for ‘synthesis of complex carbon compounds out of carbonic acid, in the presence of chlorophyll, under the influence of light’ should be designated as either ‘photosyntax’ or ‘photosynthesis.’ He preferred the word ‘photosyntax,’ but ‘photosynthesis’ came into common usage as the term of choice. Later discovery of anoxygenic photosynthetic bacteria and photophosphorylation necessitated redefinition of the term. This essay examines the history of changes in the meaning of photosynthesis.

Charles Barnes definition of photosynthesis Theodor Engelmann Martin Kamen Conway McMillan Oxford English Dictionary