Saprophytes are living organisms that feed on dead and decaying organic matter, unlike parasites that live on living organisms. They are considered extremely important in soil biology. They break down dead and decaying organic matter into simple substances that can be taken up and recycled by plants. So you see they are helpful, unlike parasites which are harmful to nature.Examples of Saprophytes are fungi and some bacteria.

Saprophytes are generally referred to as plant The word Saprophytes is derived from a Greek word and the word phyte refers to plants. But perhaps it points to certain types of orchids and a family of flowering plants called monotropes. Monotropes do not use photosynthesis to make nutrients and it was believed that they extracted nutrients from dead organic matter. It is now understood that these types of plants are actually parasites that obtain their food by growing on living fungi. Nevertheless, there are no known true saprophytic plants.

Saprophytic Nutrition

Saprophytes are identified by their use of a particular kind of digestion mechanism, named extra-cellular digestion. The process involves the secretion of digestive substances into the surrounding environment, where they break down organic matter into simple substances. The resulting nutrients are then absorbed directly through the membranes of the organism’s cells and hence metabolized. In saprophytic nutrition, the main classes of matter that are broken down happen to be proteins, fats, and starch. Proteins are digested into amino acids while fats are broken down into glycerol and fatty acids and starch are digested into simple sugars. These entire end products are small enough to be transported through the cell membranes.

Decomposers & Decomposition

Another name for saprophytes is decomposers. They work extremely efficiently and, together with the warmth and wetness which helps accelerate decomposition, often breaking down dead animals and vegetation within 24 hours.  Decomposition in areas which are colder and less humid, however, can sometimes take up to six weeks.Suitable conditions are hence needed for the optimum growth of the common types of saprophytes. There must be sufficient water in the soil or surrounding environment. The acidity of the soil or environment usually needs to be neutral, or slightly acidic, as most of these organisms do not thrive under alkaline conditions. There must usually be oxygen present as the majority of saprophytes cannot grow under anaerobic conditions. Some of the most common examples include certain saprophytic fungus types, such as those in the families of Rhizopus and Mucor.

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Practise This Question

Rhizobium bacteria help in nitrogen fixation, but they cannot make their own food. True or False?