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Fuel for Living Things

Author(s): Nancy P. Moreno, PhD, Barbara Z. Tharp, MS, and Judith Dresden, MS.

The Science of Food as Energy

In this activity, students explored the following scientific concepts. 

  • All organisms need a source of energy. Plants and some other organisms (known as producers) take in energy from the sun. Some living things, especially plants and algae, are able to produce all the energy they need to live using very simple substances. Using light energy, carbon dioxide, and water, these organisms, known collectively as producers, are able to make carbohydrates, which serve as fuel and raw material for the processes of life.
  • Almost all other living things rely on producers for energy and raw materials. Humans, animals and fungi depend on (must consume) plants and algae for energy.
  • Carbon dioxide usually is given off when living things use food. Food provides energy and raw materials needed for growth and development. When organisms consume food, it is broken down to release energy and to obtain building blocks for other molecules. During this process, oxygen is consumed and carbon dioxide is released. All organisms (with a few exceptions) release carbon dioxide when they use food. In mammals, carbon dioxide is carried through the bloodstream to the lungs, where it is released when we breathe out.


Funded by the following grant(s)

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

My Health My World: National Dissemination
Grant Number: 5R25ES009259
The Environment as a Context for Opportunities in Schools
Grant Number: 5R25ES010698, R25ES06932


Houston Endowment Inc.

Foundations for the Future: Capitalizing on Technology to Promote Equity, Access and Quality in Elementary Science Education