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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the passage of air from the outside environment to the lungs
  • Explain how the lungs are protected from particulate matter

The primary function of the respiratory system is to deliver oxygen to the cells of the body’s tissues and remove carbon dioxide, a cell waste product. The main structures of the human respiratory system are the nasal cavity, the trachea, and lungs.

All aerobic organisms require oxygen to carry out their metabolic functions. Along the evolutionary tree, different organisms have devised different means of obtaining oxygen from the surrounding atmosphere. The environment in which the animal lives greatly determines how an animal respires. The complexity of the respiratory system is correlated with the size of the organism. As animal size increases, diffusion distances increase and the ratio of surface area to volume drops. In unicellular organisms, diffusion across the cell membrane is sufficient for supplying oxygen to the cell ( [link] ). Diffusion is a slow, passive transport process. In order for diffusion to be a feasible means of providing oxygen to the cell, the rate of oxygen uptake must match the rate of diffusion across the membrane. In other words, if the cell were very large or thick, diffusion would not be able to provide oxygen quickly enough to the inside of the cell. Therefore, dependence on diffusion as a means of obtaining oxygen and removing carbon dioxide remains feasible only for small organisms or those with highly-flattened bodies, such as many flatworms (Platyhelminthes). Larger organisms had to evolve specialized respiratory tissues, such as gills, lungs, and respiratory passages accompanied by complex circulatory systems, to transport oxygen throughout their entire body.

The photo shows a round, green cell with a smooth, shiny surface. The cell resembles a balloon.
The cell of the unicellular algae Ventricaria ventricosa is one of the largest known, reaching one to five centimeters in diameter. Like all single-celled organisms, V. ventricosa exchanges gases across the cell membrane.

Direct diffusion

For small multicellular organisms, diffusion across the outer membrane is sufficient to meet their oxygen needs. Gas exchange by direct diffusion across surface membranes is efficient for organisms less than 1 mm in diameter. In simple organisms, such as cnidarians and flatworms, every cell in the body is close to the external environment. Their cells are kept moist and gases diffuse quickly via direct diffusion. Flatworms are small, literally flat worms, which ‘breathe’ through diffusion across the outer membrane ( [link] ). The flat shape of these organisms increases the surface area for diffusion, ensuring that each cell within the body is close to the outer membrane surface and has access to oxygen. If the flatworm had a cylindrical body, then the cells in the center would not be able to get oxygen.

The photo shows a worm with a flat, ribbon-like body, resting on sand. The worm is black with white spots.
This flatworm’s process of respiration works by diffusion across the outer membrane. (credit: Stephen Childs)

Skin and gills

Earthworms and amphibians use their skin (integument) as a respiratory organ. A dense network of capillaries lies just below the skin and facilitates gas exchange between the external environment and the circulatory system. The respiratory surface must be kept moist in order for the gases to dissolve and diffuse across cell membranes.

Questions & Answers

what is oxidation?
Rose Reply
 the state or result of being oxidized
Emmanuel
hahahaha thanks, but my teachers requires a thorough meaning about that
Rose
Is the process of oxidizing ,the addition of oxygen to a compound with a loss of electrons, always accompanied by reduction
Korletey
loss of electron....
Anwar
thank you. 😊
Rose
thank you. 😊
Rose
thank you. 😊
Rose
what is oxidized
Oyebanji
the process or result of oxidizing or being oxidized.
Jersey
my pleasure
Anwar
Google itttt.....if need explanation
Anwar
to rose...
Anwar
oxidation is the removal of oxygen addition of hydrogen
SIRAJO
what is genetic
Chibawa Reply
name the enzymes that i found in the saliva
Valuables Reply
draw a bacterium cell and label
Kadijah Reply
What are the osmoregulatory functions of the kidney?
bisi Reply
filter
Meenu
What is ecology
Hebert Reply
what is cell
Etama Reply
cell is the basic unit of life
Asiatou
cell is the basic structural and functional unit of an living organism
Darshan
a cell is the smallest and most basic unit of a living thing
John
cell is the basic unit of life. we are made up of 60,000 billions of cells.Each cell carry out a specific function in the body.
Pallavi
A cell is the smallest basic functioning unit of life.
Ali
where is the pectoral gridle located?
Tiania Reply
What is hypotonic
Bright Reply
what is hypotonic
Dangaya
Hypotonic means weak solution
Ali
the difference between the two cells
Obeng Reply
explain the courses and the correction of lon term sightedness and short term sightedness
Isaac Reply
long sightedness is said to be like someone that can see far object clearly why short sightedness is someone that only can see near obect
SHEDRACK
why drinking excess alcohol causes thirst and dehydration
uwikuzo Reply
Can we chat about nutrition please?
Elia
yes
Uzair
sure
Uzair
Uhm why is it so important to follow the nutritional process?
Elia
BC it contribute to the source of life
SHEDRACK
what is reproduction
smart Reply
it is d act of bringing young ones to life
Oyebanji
to ensure survival of a species🚴‍♀️
Michelle
what is a genotype
Collins
what is hazardous
smart
a cell is the smallest unit of a living thing. so we all have cell
smart
It is the formation of a zygote resulting from the fusion of the sperm cell with the ovum.Thus,this results in the production of new species which are genetically dissimilar from their parent cells.
Pallavi
yes we all have cell round our body without the existances of cell them they will be no life in us as human
SHEDRACK
what is size of cell
Mohd Reply
what is size of Hart
Mohd
nanometers=um sign thingie
Michelle
microns=nanometers
Michelle
monomers and polymers of nucleic acids?
Jyrl Reply
dna and rna involvement
Michelle

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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