Excretion is elimination of metabolic waste, which is an essential process in all organisms. In vertebrates, this is primarily carried out by the lungs, kidneys, and skin.[1] This is in contrast with secretion, where the substance may have specific tasks after leaving the cell. For example, placental mammals expel urine from the bladder through the urethra,[2] which is part of the excretory system. Unicellular organisms discharge waste products directly through the surface of the cell.

During life activities such as cellular respiration, several chemical reactions take place in the body. These are known as metabolism. These chemical reactions produce waste products such as carbon dioxide, water, salts, urea and uric acid. Accumulation of these wastes beyond a level inside the body is harmful to the body. The excretory organs remove these wastes. This process of removal of metabolic waste from the body is known as excretion.

Green plants excrete carbon dioxide and water as respiratory products. In green plants, the carbon dioxide released during respiration gets used during photosynthesis. Oxygen is a byproduct generated during photosynthesis, and exits through stomata, root cell walls, and other routes. Plants can get rid of excess water by transpiration and guttation. It has been shown that the leaf acts as an 'excretophore' and, in addition to being a primary organ of photosynthesis, is also used as a method of excreting toxic wastes via diffusion. Other waste materials that are exuded by some plants — resin, saps, latex, etc. are forced from the interior of the plant by hydrostatic pressures inside the plant and by absorptive forces of plant cells. These latter processes do not need added energy, they act passively. However, during the pre-abscission phase, the metabolic levels of a leaf are high.[3][4] Plants also excrete some waste substances into the soil around them.[5]

Chemical structure of uric acid.

In animals, the main excretory products are carbon dioxide, ammonia (in ammoniotelics), urea (in ureotelics), uric acid (in uricotelics), guanine (in Arachnida), and creatine. The liver and kidneys clear many substances from the blood (for example, in renal excretion), and the cleared substances are then excreted from the body in the urine and feces.[6]

Aquatic animals usually excrete ammonia directly into the external environment, as this compound has high solubility and there is ample water available for dilution. In terrestrial animals, ammonia-like compounds are converted into other nitrogenous materials, i.e. urea, that are less harmful as there is less water in the environment and ammonia itself is toxic. This process is called detoxification.[7]

White cast of uric acid defecated along with the dark feces by a lizard. Insects, birds and some other reptiles also use a similar mechanism.

Birds excrete their nitrogenous wastes as uric acid in the form of a paste. Although this process is metabolically more expensive, it allows more efficient water retention and it can be stored more easily in the egg. Many avian species, especially seabirds, can also excrete salt via specialized nasal salt glands, the saline solution leaving through nostrils in the beak.

In insects, a system involving Malpighian tubules is used to excrete metabolic waste. Metabolic waste diffuses or is actively transported into the tubule, which transports the wastes to the intestines. The metabolic waste is then released from the body along with fecal matter.

The excreted material may be called ejecta.[8] In pathology the word ejecta is more commonly used.[9]

See also



  1. ^ Beckett BS (1987). Biology: A Modern Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 110. ISBN 0-19-914260-2.
  2. ^ Marvalee H. Wake (15 September 1992). Hyman's Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy. University of Chicago Press. pp. 583–. ISBN 978-0-226-87013-7. Retrieved 6 May 2013.
  3. ^ Ford BJ (October 1986). "Even plants excrete". Nature. 323 (6091): 763. Bibcode:1986Natur.323..763F. doi:10.1038/323763a0. S2CID 4344886.
  4. ^ "Excretion". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010.
  5. ^ http://www.tutorvista.com/content/science/science-ii/excretion/excretion-plants [dead link]
  6. ^ Weiner ID, Mitch WE, Sands JM (August 2015). "Urea and Ammonia Metabolism and the Control of Renal Nitrogen Excretion". Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. 10 (8): 1444–58. doi:10.2215/CJN.10311013. PMC 4527031. PMID 25078422.
  7. ^ "Excretion - General features of excretory structures and functions". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2021-02-05.
  8. ^ Carmichael J (1887). "Gastro-Intestinal Disorder in Sucklings". The Transactions of the Edinburgh Obstetrical Society. 12. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd: 164–173, 169. PMC 5487197. PMID 29613104.
  9. ^ "Ejecta". Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. 1989.