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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Explain how ATP is used by the cell as an energy source
  • Describe the overall result in terms of molecules produced of the breakdown of glucose by glycolysis

Even exergonic, energy-releasing reactions require a small amount of activation energy to proceed. However, consider endergonic reactions, which require much more energy input because their products have more free energy than their reactants. Within the cell, where does energy to power such reactions come from? The answer lies with an energy-supplying molecule called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP    . ATP is a small, relatively simple molecule, but within its bonds contains the potential for a quick burst of energy that can be harnessed to perform cellular work. This molecule can be thought of as the primary energy currency of cells in the same way that money is the currency that people exchange for things they need. ATP is used to power the majority of energy-requiring cellular reactions.

Atp in living systems

A living cell cannot store significant amounts of free energy. Excess free energy would result in an increase of heat in the cell, which would denature enzymes and other proteins, and thus destroy the cell. Rather, a cell must be able to store energy safely and release it for use only as needed. Living cells accomplish this using ATP, which can be used to fill any energy need of the cell. How? It functions as a rechargeable battery.

When ATP is broken down, usually by the removal of its terminal phosphate group, energy is released. This energy is used to do work by the cell, usually by the binding of the released phosphate to another molecule, thus activating it. For example, in the mechanical work of muscle contraction, ATP supplies energy to move the contractile muscle proteins.

Atp structure and function

At the heart of ATP is a molecule of adenosine monophosphate (AMP), which is composed of an adenine molecule bonded to both a ribose molecule and a single phosphate group ( [link] ). Ribose is a five-carbon sugar found in RNA and AMP is one of the nucleotides in RNA. The addition of a second phosphate group to this core molecule results in adenosine di phosphate (ADP); the addition of a third phosphate group forms adenosine tri phosphate (ATP).

This illustration shows the molecular structure of ATP. This molecule is an adenine nucleotide with ribose and a string of three phosphate groups attached to it. The phosphate groups are named alpha, beta, and gamma in order of increasing distance from the ribose sugar to which they are attached.
The structure of ATP shows the basic components of a two-ring adenine, five-carbon ribose, and three phosphate groups.

The addition of a phosphate group to a molecule requires a high amount of energy and results in a high-energy bond. Phosphate groups are negatively charged and thus repel one another when they are arranged in series, as they are in ADP and ATP. This repulsion makes the ADP and ATP molecules inherently unstable. The release of one or two phosphate groups from ATP, a process called hydrolysis, releases energy. Hydrolysis occurs when water is added to break the chemical bond and is the opposite of dehydration synthesis reactions discussed previously.


You have read that nearly all of the energy used by living things comes to them in the bonds of the sugar, glucose. Glycolysis is the first step in the breakdown of glucose to extract energy for cell metabolism. Many living organisms carry out glycolysis as part of their metabolism. Glycolysis takes place in the cytoplasm of eukaryotic cells.

Glycolysis begins with the six-carbon, ring-shaped structure of a single glucose molecule and ends with two molecules of a three-carbon sugar called pyruvate. Glycolysis consists of two distinct phases. In the first part of the glycolysis pathway, energy is used to make adjustments so that the six-carbon sugar molecule can be split evenly into two three-carbon pyruvate molecules. In the second part of glycolysis, ATP and nicotinamide-adenine dinucleotide (NADH) are produced ( [link] ). NAD+ is the form of the coenzyme that is able to accept electrons and hydrogen from the glucose. NADH carries the electrons to a later stage in metabolism to be used to provide energy (indirectly) to catalyze the endergonic reaction of adding a phosphate group to ADP to make ATP.

If the cell cannot catabolize the pyruvate molecules further, it will harvest only two ATP molecules from one molecule of glucose. For example, mature mammalian red blood cells are only capable of glycolysis, which is their sole source of ATP. If glycolysis is interrupted, these cells would eventually die.

A graphic shows glucose at the top with an arrow pointing down to fructose diphosphate, which then splits into two glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate molecules. Each of these forms one NADH and two ATP molecules in the process of each becoming a pyruvate molecule.
In glycolysis, a glucose molecule is converted into two pyruvate molecules. Notice that each of the two molecules has three carbon atoms, representing the six carbons that were present in the glucose that started the process. This means that no carbon dioxide is released in glycolysis, as the carbon to make it comes from the glucose molecule.

Section summary

ATP functions as the energy currency for cells. It allows cells to store energy briefly and transport it within itself to support endergonic chemical reactions. The structure of ATP is that of an RNA nucleotide with three phosphate groups attached. As ATP is used for energy, a phosphate group is detached, and ADP is produced. Energy derived from glucose catabolism is used to recharge ADP into ATP.

Glycolysis is the first pathway used in the breakdown of glucose to extract energy. Because it is used by nearly all organisms on earth, it must have evolved early in the history of life. Glycolysis consists of two parts: The first part prepares the six-carbon ring of glucose for separation into two three-carbon sugars. Energy from ATP is invested into the molecule during this step to energize the separation. The second half of glycolysis extracts ATP and high-energy electrons from hydrogen atoms and attaches them to NAD + . Two ATP molecules are invested in the first half and four ATP molecules are formed during the second half. This produces a net gain of two ATP molecules per molecule of glucose for the cell.

Questions & Answers

how many types of solid did we have
Samuel Reply
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What is Atoms
Daprince Reply
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Eduek Reply
urine is formed in the nephron of the renal medulla in the kidney. It starts from filtration, then selective reabsorption and finally secretion
onuoha Reply
State the evolution relation and relevance between endoplasmic reticulum and cytoskeleton as it relates to cell.
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Konadu Reply
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how is urine formed in human
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malaria is caused by an insect called mosquito.
Malaria is cause by female anopheles mosquito
Malaria is caused by plasmodium Female anopheles mosquitoe is d carrier
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what are pathogens
Don Reply
In biology, a pathogen (Greek: πάθος pathos "suffering", "passion" and -γενής -genēs "producer of") in the oldest and broadest sense, is anything that can produce disease. A pathogen may also be referred to as an infectious agent, or simply a germ. The term pathogen came into use in the 1880s.[1][2
A virus
Definition of respiration
Muhsin Reply
respiration is the process in which we breath in oxygen and breath out carbon dioxide
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Achiri Reply
in the mouth
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Rashima Reply
stimulates the follicle to release the mature ovum into the oviduct
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endocrine secrete hormone and regulate body process
while pituitary gland is an example of endocrine system and it's found in the Brain
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Egbodo Reply
Biology is the study of living organisms, divided into many specialized field that cover their morphology, physiology,anatomy, behaviour,origin and distribution.
biology is the study of life.
1-chemical level 2-cellular level 3-organ system level 4-tissue level 5-organism level 6-molecules
Dennis Reply
when cell are dead in any part of the body what happen to that place
Dennis Reply
describe the Krebs cycle
Lian Reply
the sequence of reactions by which most living cells generate energy during the process of aerobic respiration. It takes place in the mitochondria, consuming oxygen, producing carbon dioxide and water as waste products, and converting ADP to energy
Andy is 1.0 m tall and weighs 45kg Bmi= weight / Height (squared) what's his bmi? Is it high or low?
zafirah Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Human biology. OpenStax CNX. Dec 01, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11903/1.3
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