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Do you see a difference between this guy and this guy?
Ever wonder how someone has the energy to run a marathon? What about being able to push themselves when they're exhausted and can't breathe?
It's all due to something called cellular respiration. This is the process that living organisms use to turn food into the energy they need for survival. Cellular respiration can be summarized by the equation:
Organic compounds + oxygen --> carbon dioxide + water + energy
So what does all of this mean?
Some organisms eat plants. Some organisms eat animals. Some organisms even make their own food, like in the case of plants and some bacteria. However, what we all do with that food is the same.
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Structure and Function of ATP
Food contains important chemicals called organic compounds. You may remember that carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins are all organic compounds. Nucleic acids are also organic compounds, but they don't come from food, so we won't worry about them right now.
These chemical compounds have energy stored in their bonds that your body wants and needs, so your body needs to extract that energy and turn it into a usable form.
That usable form is the molecule ATP, or adenosine triphosphate. ATP is the form of energy used by all living things. It's composed of a ribose sugar, an adenine base, and 3 phosphates.
The easiest way to think about ATP is like a rechargeable battery. When ATP is charged and energized, it has 3 phosphates. But in order for your body to use ATP energy, it must break the bond between the last two phosphates. Breaking that bond releases the energy your body needs for survival. However, this chemical reaction also changes ATP into ADP (adenosine diphosphate). ADP is like a rechargeable battery that has lost its charge. To recharge ADP, your body must convert food to energy through this process of cellular respiration.
Aerobic versus Anaerobic Respiration
So what's the difference between this guy and this guy?
There are two types of cellular respiration: aerobic cellular respiration and anaerobic cellular respiration.
Maybe you made the connection that 'aero' sounds like air and therefore must have something to do with oxygen. Aerobic cellular respiration is a process that requires oxygen to convert food into ATP. Or, maybe you recognized the prefix 'an.' The prefix 'an-' means 'without,' so anaerobic cellular respiration is without oxygen, or a process that does not require oxygen to convert food into ATP.
Anaerobic cellular respiration versus aerobic cellular respiration is the big difference between this guy and this guy.
This guy looks exhausted and out of breath. As a result, he's probably not getting enough oxygen, causing his body to use anaerobic cellular respiration to make energy. Unfortunately, anaerobic cellular respiration makes very little ATP, only adding to his exhaustion.
Meanwhile, this guy looks like he's in the zone and probably has a breathing rhythm to make sure he gets enough oxygen for his body to perform aerobic cellular respiration. Aerobic cellular respiration will provide him with the ATP that he needs to keep going.
So let's recap. All living things perform cellular respiration. Cellular respiration is the process of converting organic compounds, also known as food, into ATP, or energy.
ATP, also known as adenosine triphosphate, is the molecule all living things use to store energy. ATP is like a rechargeable battery. When the battery loses its charge (in the form of a phosphate), it becomes ADP, or adenosine diphosphate. However, since ATP is rechargeable, cellular respiration can turn that uncharged ADP into a charged ATP.
In humans, how much charged ATP gets created is a question of whether or not a person has enough oxygen to perform aerobic cellular respiration. When you have plenty of oxygen, your body performs aerobic cellular respiration and makes plenty of ATP. But when you don't have enough oxygen, your cells switch to anaerobic cellular respiration and make very little ATP.
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Cellular Respiration: Energy Transfer in Cells
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