Introduction to Cellular Respiration

Some organisms, such as plants, can trap the energy in sunlight through photosynthesis (see Chapter 5) and store it in the chemical bonds of carbohydrate molecules. The principal carbohydrate formed through photosynthesis is glucose. Other types of organisms, such as animals, fungi, many protozoa, and a large portion of bacteria, are unable to perform this process. Therefore, these organisms must rely on the carbohydrates formed in plants to obtain the energy necessary for their metabolic processes.

Animals and other organisms obtain the energy available in carbohydrates through the process of cellular respiration. Cells take the carbohydrates into their cytoplasm, and through a complex series of metabolic processes, they break down the carbohydrates and release the energy. The energy is generally not needed immediately; rather, it is used to combine adenosine diphosphate (ADP) with phosphate ions to form adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecules. The ATP can then be used for processes in the cells that require energy, much as a battery powers a mechanical device.

During the process of cellular respiration, carbon dioxide is given off. This carbon dioxide can be used by plant cells during photosynthesis to form new carbohydrates. Also in the process of cellular respiration, oxygen gas is required to serve as an acceptor of electrons. This oxygen is identical to the oxygen gas given off during photosynthesis. Thus, there is an interrelationship between the processes of photosynthesis and cellular respiration, namely the entrapment of energy available in sunlight and the provision of the energy for cellular processes in the form of ATP.

The overall mechanism of cellular respiration involves four processes: glycolysis, in which glucose molecules are broken down to form pyruvic acid molecules; the Krebs cycle, in which pyruvic acid is further broken down and the energy in its molecule is used to form high-energy compounds, such as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH); the electron transport system, in which electrons are transported along a series of coenzymes and cytochromes and the energy in the electrons is released; and chemiosmosis, in which the energy given off by electrons pumps protons across a membrane and provides the energy for ATP synthesis. The general chemical equation for cellular respiration is:

C6H12O6 + 6 O2 → 6 H2O + 6CO2 + energy

Figure 6-1 provides an overview of cellular respiration. Glucose is converted to pyruvic acid in the cytoplasm, which is then used to produce acetyl CoA in the mitochondrion. Finally, the Krebs cycle proceeds in the mitochondrion. Electron transport and chemiosmosis result in energy release; ATP synthesis also occurs in the mitochondrion.