Does Aerobic Cellular Respiration Happen in Prokaryotic Organisms?

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  • 0:00 Prokaryotic Organisms
  • 1:54 Aerobic Cellular Respiration
  • 4:06 Examples of Prokaryotes
  • 5:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bridgett Payseur

Bridgett has a PhD in microbiology and immunology and teaches college biology.

All cells must perform cellular respiration to get energy and stay alive, but not all organisms can do aerobic cellular respiration. Find out in this lesson if prokaryotic organisms can use oxygen to do cellular respiration and how the process works.

Prokaryotic Organisms

What are prokaryotes? They are simple, usually single-celled organisms. Prokaryotic cells do not have a nucleus; instead the DNA is packed up in the middle of the cell. They also have ribosomes to make proteins and a membrane and cell wall to contain the contents of the cell. Prokaryotes do not have specialized organelles like the more complex eukaryotes (like us humans).

Prokaryotes include bacteria, those organisms you hear about on the news causing rampant disease and destruction (but most of them are not so bad). The other kind are archaea, which usually live in extreme environments that are too hot, cold, salty, or alkaline for other cells to live. Whether they live inside your body or inside a hot spring, prokaryotes must do cellular respiration to stay alive.

When you hear the word 'respiration', you probably think of breathing. Well, cellular respiration is not the same thing as breathing. It's actually a metabolic process that involves breaking apart glucose (sugar) to create a form of cellular energy called ATP.

All organisms do cellular respiration to stay alive, but they don't all do the same type of cellular respiration. You see, there are both aerobic cellular respiration (with oxygen) and anaerobic respiration (without oxygen). The main difference is that aerobic produces much more energy. Eukaryotes need to do aerobic cellular respiration (and we breathe to get that necessary oxygen!), but prokaryotes are much simpler, so anaerobic cellular respiration is often sufficient. But is it enough all the time? No!

So, the answer to our question is...Yes! Aerobic cellular respiration does happen in prokaryotic organisms. But only certain kinds. Let's examine this process.

Aerobic Cellular Respiration

In your cells, cellular respiration happens in a special organelle called the mitochondrion. But as mentioned, prokaryotic organisms don't have organelles. Rather than taking place in the mitochondrion, cellular respiration happens either in the cytoplasm or across the plasma membrane of the cell. Scientists believe that the mitochondria in our cells are actually bacteria that moved in to perform cellular respiration for us.

Step 1

The first step of cellular respiration, whether it is aerobic or anaerobic, is called glycolysis (glyco= glucose, lysis= split apart). This happens in the cytoplasm in both eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells and splits glucose, or sugar, into two molecules in order to make ATP.

Then, there are two more steps that only occur during aerobic respiration.

Step 2

The Krebs cycle (also called the citric acid cycle or the TCA cycle) finishes breaking the sugar down into carbon dioxide. As the remnants of glucose are being broken apart, energized electrons are released.

Step 3

These electrons move to the electron transport chain, where they are passed to a bunch of different carriers across the cell membrane in prokaryotes. In eukaryotes, this movement of electrons happens across the mitochondrial membrane.

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