We have already discussed how organisms get rid of gaseous wastes generated during photosynthesis or respiration. Other metabolic activities generate nitrogenous materials which need to be removed. The biological process involved in the removal of these harmful metabolic wastes from the body is called excretion. Different organisms use varied strategies to do this. Many unicellular organisms remove these wastes by simple diffusion from the body surface into the surrounding water. As we have seen in other processes, complex multi-cellular organisms use specialised organs to perform the same function.
Excretion in Human Beings
The excretory system of human beings (Fig. 6.13) includes a pair of kidneys, a pair of ureters, a urinary bladder and a urethra. Kidneys are located in the abdomen, one on either side of the backbone. Urine produced in the kidneys passes through the ureters into the urinary bladder where it is stored until it is released through the urethra.
How is urine produced? The purpose of making urine is to filter out waste products from the blood. Just as CO2 is removed from the blood in the lungs, nitrogenous waste such as urea or uric acid are removed from blood in the kidneys. It is then no surprise that the basic filtration unit in the kidneys, like in the lungs, is a cluster of very thin-walled blood capillaries. Each capillary cluster in the kidney is associated with the cup-shaped end of a tube that collects the filtered urine (Fig. 6.14). Each kidney has large numbers of these filtration units called nephrons packed close together.
Transportation in Plants
We have discussed earlier how plants take in simple compounds such as CO2 and photosynthesise energy stored in their chlorophyll-containing organs, namely leaves. The other kinds of raw materials needed for building plant bodies will also have to be taken up separately. For plants, the soil is the nearest and richest source of raw materials like nitrogen, phosphorus and other minerals. The absorption of these substances therefore occurs through the part in contact with the soil, namely roots. If the distances between soil-contacting organs and chlorophyllcontaining organs are small, energy and raw materials can easily diffuse to all parts of the plant body. But if these distances become large because of changes in plant body design, diffusion processes will not be sufficient to provide raw material in leaves and energy in roots. A proper system of transportation is therefore essential in such situations.
Energy needs differ between different body designs. Plants do not move, and plant bodies have a large proportion of dead cells in many tissues. As a result, plants have low energy needs, and can use relatively slow transport systems. The distances over which transport systems have to operate, however, can be very large in plants such as very tall trees.
Plant transport systems will move energy stores from leaves and raw materials from roots. These two pathways are constructed as independently organised conducting tubes. One, the xylem moves water and minerals obtained from the soil. The other, phloem transports products of photosynthesis from the leaves where they are synthesized to other parts of the plant. We have studied the structure of these tissues in detail in Class IX.
Transport of water
In xylem tissue, vessels and tracheids of the roots, stems and leaves are interconnected to form a continuous system of water-conducting channels reaching all parts of the plant. At the roots, cells in contact with the soil actively take up ions. This creates a difference in the concentration of these ions between the root and the soil. Water, therefore moves into the root from the soil to eliminate this difference. This means that there is steady movement of water into root xylem, creating a column of water that is steadily pushed upwards.
However, this pressure by itself is unlikely to be enough to move water over the heights that we commonly see in plants. Plants use another strategy to move water in the xylem upwards to the highest points of the plant body.