In recognition of Earth Day, the WSU Insider dug into the Ask Dr. Universe archives for a 2021 piece answering a question from a curious 11-year-old about how trees give us air to breathe.

Balasaheb Sonawane.

The fictional feline Dr. Universe sat down with her friend Balasaheb Sonawane, a WSU biologist, to learn about how plants use energy from the sun to make oxygen via a process called photosynthesis.

Sonawane explained that plants don’t have a nose or mouth like humans but rather use tiny microscopic organs on their leaves called stomata to move gasses in and out. Another key difference between humans and plants is that while humans breathe oxygen gas, plants take in carbon dioxide gas using the stomata on their leaves.

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