Compare & Contrast Breathing & Cellular Respiration

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  • 0:00 What is Breathing?
  • 1:46 What is Cellular Respiration?
  • 3:11 Differences
  • 4:10 Similarities
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

This lesson is on breathing and cellular respiration. Today we'll learn the details of each process and look at key differences and similarities. Then test your knowledge with a short quiz.

What Is Breathing?

Take a deep breath in through your mouth, then exhale slowly through your nose. Feel your body slow down and relax. Breathing exercises like these are great when you're stressed, maybe about an upcoming test, which could be why you're here.

Learning to control your breath can help manage your emotions, but today we're going talk about breathing on a more physiological level and understanding how it relates to single cells inside our body. Breathing is the process of inhaling and exhaling through our lungs. When we breathe in air from the atmosphere, we are inhaling a mixture of mostly nitrogen, some oxygen and a few trace gases. However, it's the oxygen our bodies are looking for.

Oxygen enters the lungs through our nose and mouth and moves through the trachea, or windpipe, to the lungs. Air then moves deeper and deeper into the lungs through a branching network of tubes called the bronchi. At the end of these tubes are tiny sacs called alveoli. This is where oxygen gets into our body. Think of the inside of the lungs like a tree. The trachea is the trunk and the bronchi are the large branches. These branches get smaller and smaller until they end with single leaves, which are analogous to the alveoli.

In the alveoli of our lungs, oxygen moves into our blood and carbon dioxide, the gas we breath out, goes into the alveoli from the blood. Our lungs fill with carbon dioxide and we exhale, releasing a gas that would be otherwise toxic to our body.

But now we have to dig a little deeper. How do our cells actually use the oxygen? Why do our bodies need oxygen? And why do our bodies make carbon dioxide if it isn't good for us? Let's look at the answer to these questions next.

What Is Cellular Respiration?

Cellular respiration is the key to answering the questions above. Our bodies use cellular respiration to make energy from oxygen. Carbon dioxide is a waste product of cellular respiration and is not needed by the body. Let's look at how this happens, starting at the alveoli.

When the oxygen gets to the alveoli, it moves into the blood. The blood flows back to the heart from the lungs, and is then pumped all over the body to individual cells. The cells take in the oxygen and give the blood the waste carbon dioxide.

Once the oxygen is inside the cells, they start the process of cellular respiration. Cells use oxygen and a sugar, called glucose, that we get from food to make energy for the cell and carbon dioxide. The energy is stored as a chemical called ATP, or adenosine triphosphate). Think of ATP like the money of the cell. Cells use it as a currency to do all kinds of things, from making your heart pump blood to making your brain think. ATP is essential for proper functioning in the body.

When our cells make ATP they also make carbon dioxide, which is toxic to the cell. They get rid of it by dropping it off in the blood. The blood takes it back to the lungs where it is exhaled. Then the process starts again. This is happening every second of your life. Cellular respiration continues non-stop, until death. So the answer to our question, 'why do we need oxygen?', is to make energy.

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