Most heterotrophs are chemoorganoheterotrophs (or simply organotrophs) and utilize organic compounds both as a carbon source and an energy source. The term "heterotroph" very often refers to chemoorganoheterotrophs. Heterotrophs function as consumers in food chains: they obtain organic carbon by eating other heterotrophs or autotrophs. They break down complex organic compounds (e.g., carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) produced by autotrophs into simpler compounds (e.g., carbohydrates into glucose, fats into fatty acids and glycerol, and proteins into amino acids). They release energy by oxidizing carbon and hydrogen atoms present in carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins to carbon dioxide and water, respectively. Most opisthokonts and prokaryotes are heterotrophic; in particular, all animals and fungi are heterotrophs.[7] Some animals, such as corals, form symbiotic relationships with autotrophs and obtain organic carbon in this way. Furthermore, some parasitic plants have also turned fully or partially heterotrophic, while carnivorous plants consume animals to augment their nitrogen supply while remaining autotrophic.

The prokaryotes ( /pro??k?ri.o?ts/, pro-kah-ree-otes or /pro??k?ri?ts/, pro-kah-ree-?ts) are a group of organisms whose cells lack a cell nucleus (karyon), or any other membrane-bound organelles. The organisms whose cells do have a nucleus are called eukaryotes. Most prokaryotes are unicellular organisms, although a few such as myxobacteria have multicellular stages in their life cycles[1] or create large colonies like cyanobacteria. The word prokaryote comes from the Greek ???- (pro-) "before" + ?????? (karyon) "nut or kernel".[2] Prokaryotes do not have a nucleus, mitochondria, or any other membrane-bound organelles. In other words, all their intracellular water-soluble components (proteins, DNA and metabolites) are located together in the same area enclosed by cell membrane, rather than separated in different cellular compartments. The division to prokaryotes and eukaryotes reflects two distinct levels of cellular organization rather than biological classification of species. Prokaryotes include two major classification domains: the bacteria and the archaea. Archaea were recognized as a domain of life in 1990. These organisms were originally thought to live only in inhospitable conditions such as extremes of temperature, pH, and radiation but have since been found in all types of habitats. The division to prokaryotes and eukaryotes is usually considered the most important distinction among organisms. The distinction is that eukaryotic cells have a "true" nucleus containing their DNA, whereas prokaryotic cells do not have a nucleus. One criticism of this classification points out that the word "prokaryote" is based on what these organisms are not (they are not eukaryotic), rather than what they are (either archaea or bacteria).[3] Another difference is that ribosomes in prokaryotes are smaller than in eukaryotes. However, two organelles found in many eukaryotic cells, mitochondria and chloroplasts, contain ribosomes similar in size and makeup to those found in prokaryotes.[4] This is one of many pieces of evidence that mitochondria and chloroplasts are themselves descended from free-living bacteria. The genome in a prokaryote is held within a DNA/protein complex in the cytosol called the nucleoid, which lacks a nuclear envelope.[5] The complex contains a single, cyclic, double-stranded molecule of stable chromosomal DNA, in contrast to the multiple linear, compact, highly organized chromosomes found in eukaryotic cells. In addition, many important genes of prokaryotes are stored in separate circular DNA structures called plasmids.[2] Prokaryotes lack distinct mitochondria and chloroplasts. Instead, processes such as oxidative phosphorylation and photosynthesis take place across the prokaryotic cell membrane.[6] However, prokaryotes do possess some internal structures, such as prokaryotic cytoskeletons,[7][8] and the bacterial order Planctomycetes have a membrane around their nucleoid and contain other membrane-bound cellular structures.[9] Both eukaryotes and prokaryotes contain large RNA/protein structures called ribosomes, which produce protein. Prokaryotic cells are usually much smaller than eukaryotic cells.[2] Therefore, prokaryotes have a larger surface-area-to-volume ratio, giving them a higher metabolic rate, a higher growth rate, and, as a consequence, a shorter generation time than Eukaryotes.[2] In 1977, Carl Woese proposed dividing prokaryotes into the Bacteria and Archaea (originally Eubacteria and Archaebacteria) because of the major differences in the structure and genetics between the two groups of organisms. This arrangement of Eukaryota (also called "Eukarya"), Bacteria, and Archaea is called the three-domain system, replacing the traditional two-empire system.[10]