Pyruvate in Cellular Respiration

Pyruvate in Cellular Respiration
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  • 0:04 Definition of Cellular…
  • 1:16 How Pyruvate Is Made
  • 2:17 The Role of Pyruvate
  • 3:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dominic Corsini
What form of energy do cells use? How do they make this energy? What does the food you eat have to do with any of this? This lesson addresses these questions by examining the role of pyruvate in cellular respiration.

Definition of Cellular Respiration

When most people think about respiration, they think of breathing. Hopefully you're breathing right now. But that isn't the only form of respiration at work inside your body. There is another form of respiration that you see every day, even when holding your breath. This is called cellular respiration and it's absolutely vital for your survival.

Cellular respiration is the process your cells use to produce usable energy in the form of ATP. Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP for short, is a high-energy molecule cells use as their energy source. Think of it like the energy currency of cells. If cells want to do something that requires energy, it will cost them some ATP. And cellular respiration is how ATP is made.

Now, here's an overview of this process. Cellular respiration is a three-phase procedure. The phases are called glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, and the electron transport chain. Within these phases is an important molecule called pyruvate, sometimes referred to as pyruvic acid. Pyruvate is the molecule that feeds the Krebs cycle, our second step in cellular respiration.

How Pyruvate Is Made

To understand how pyruvate is made, we need to start from the beginning. The cellular respiration process begins with the food you eat. More specifically, it begins with the starchy food you eat. That's because starch breaks down into a sugar called glucose. This glucose is needed to kick start glycolysis. Once underway, glycolysis will produce chemicals needed by the electron transport chain, but it will also produce pyruvate for use in the Krebs cycle. Here's how that works.

The glucose (sugar) in food is made from six carbon atoms. These six atoms are broken apart during glycolysis and converted into two smaller molecules, each made from three carbon atoms. Now, these three carbon molecules go through a series of chemical changes where atoms are added, removed, and shifted from place to place. However, the molecules retain their three-carbon structure. Having been changed, these newly formed molecules are now called pyruvate, or pyruvic acid.

The Role of Pyruvate

Remember the phases of cellular respiration:

  1. Glycolysis
  2. The Krebs Cycle
  3. The electron transport chain

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