ATP: Definition & Molecules

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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 0:19 Energy Currency
  • 1:54 Energy Molecule
  • 3:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kelly Robson

Kelly has taught High School Science and Applied Communications. She holds an Education Specialist Degree in Ed. Leadership.

ATP is the molecule that fuels life. It is where our cells get the energy needed to perform their tasks. This lesson will define ATP, explain its structure, and briefly outline how it works.


Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP for short, is the energy currency of life. ATP is a high-energy molecule found in every cell. Its job is to store and supply the cell with needed energy.

Energy Currency

Nerve Cells

Cells are the building blocks of life. They come in many different shapes and sizes. Each cell has a specific function to help the organism to perform tasks necessary for survival. For instance, nerve cells are needed to communicate messages to our brains. They also allow us to think. Another example is the cells that make up our various muscles, such as the ones found in our eyelids that allow us to blink. All cells perform specific tasks, and all cells need energy to perform these tasks. This is where ATP comes into play.

In order for us to blink and think, we need the energy that ATP supplies to our cells. ATP is responsible for the energy needed to perform muscle contractions, nerve impulses, metabolism functions, and other various life-sustaining functions. It supplies the energy for chemical and mechanical reactions in every cell.

ATP is found in the cytoplasm of the cell. The cytoplasm is the gel-type filler of the cell where all of the organelles of the cell hang out. This location makes sense because the ATP needs to be near all of the cell parts so that it can supply them with the energy they need for chemical and mechanical reactions.

ATP gets its energy by breaking down food. It is created in the mitochondria, the powerhouse factory organelle, during the process of cellular respiration. The energy is obtained from breaking down food. Animals eat the food, and plants absorb the energy from light through the process of photosynthesis.

Energy Molecule

Adenosine triphosphate is a high-energy molecule. The main ingredients of this molecule are carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and phosphorus. Its chemical formula is:

C10 H16 N5 O13 P 3

There are three sections of the ATP molecule. In the center is a sugar molecule called ribose. Attached to one end of the ribose are rings of carbon and nitrogen that form a base known as adenine. At the other end of the ribose is a group of three phosphates. The group of three phosphates is the key to the energy in the molecule.

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