difference between heterotrophic and autotrophic nutrition

The Difference between Heterotrophic and Autotrophic Nutrition

Nutrition is the process by which organisms obtain energy and nutrients to support their biological functions. There are two main types of nutrition: heterotrophic and autotrophic. Both have significant differences in terms of energy and nutrient acquisition.

Autotrophic Nutrition

Autotrophic nutrition is a type of nutrition adopted by green plants, some bacteria, and algae. In this process, an organism can make its food using energy from the sun, carbon dioxide, and water. This process is also called photosynthesis, and it produces oxygen as a byproduct.

The chlorophyll present in the cells of the green plants plays a crucial role in photosynthesis. The process begins by chlorophyll capturing sunlight energy from the sun. The captured energy is then used to metabolize the carbon dioxide and water molecules that are present in the plant’s cells. The end result of photosynthesis is the creation of glucose, which serves as a primary food source for the plant.

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Heterotrophic Nutrition

In contrast, heterotrophic nutrition is a type of nutrition adopted by animals, fungi, and non-photosynthetic bacteria. In this process, an organism cannot produce its own food but must consume or absorb nutrients from other organisms. In other words, heterotrophs obtain their energy by feeding on other living organisms or dead organic matter.

Heterotrophic nutrition can be divided into three categories:
– Holozoic: Organisms that ingest solid particles, for example, humans and other mammals.
– Saprophytic: Organisms that obtain nutrients by feeding on dead organic matter, for example, fungi.
– Parasitic: These organisms obtain nutrients by feeding on another living organism, for example, ticks.


In conclusion, the primary difference between autotrophic and heterotrophic nutrition is the way organisms obtain their energy and nutrients. Autotrophic nutrition depends on photosynthesis and the use of sunlight energy to create glucose. On the other hand, heterotrophic nutrition depends on the consumption or absorption of nutrients from other organisms to obtain energy for survival. Knowing the difference between these types of nutrition can help understand the diversity of life on our planet.

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Table difference between heterotrophic and autotrophic nutrition

Feature Heterotrophic Nutrition Autotrophic Nutrition
Definition Obtaining food from other organisms Producing food by utilizing sunlight or chemical energy
Source of energy Organic compounds like glucose Light or chemical energy
Carbon source Organic compounds Carbon dioxide
Examples Animals, fungi, some bacteria and protozoa Plants, algae, some bacteria and protozoa
Mode of ingestion By ingestion, absorption, or symbiosis By photosynthesis or chemosynthesis
Role in ecosystem Consumers or decomposers Producers