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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Compare and contrast the way in which aquatic animals and terrestrial animals can eliminate toxic ammonia from their systems
  • Compare the major byproduct of ammonia metabolism in vertebrate animals to that of birds, insects, and reptiles

Of the four major macromolecules in biological systems, both proteins and nucleic acids contain nitrogen. During the catabolism, or breakdown, of nitrogen-containing macromolecules, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are extracted and stored in the form of carbohydrates and fats. Excess nitrogen is excreted from the body. Nitrogenous wastes tend to form toxic ammonia    , which raises the pH of body fluids. The formation of ammonia itself requires energy in the form of ATP and large quantities of water to dilute it out of a biological system. Animals that live in aquatic environments tend to release ammonia into the water. Animals that excrete ammonia are said to be ammonotelic    . Terrestrial organisms have evolved other mechanisms to excrete nitrogenous wastes. The animals must detoxify ammonia by converting it into a relatively nontoxic form such as urea or uric acid. Mammals, including humans, produce urea, whereas reptiles and many terrestrial invertebrates produce uric acid. Animals that secrete urea as the primary nitrogenous waste material are called ureotelic    animals.

Nitrogenous waste in terrestrial animals: the urea cycle

The urea cycle    is the primary mechanism by which mammals convert ammonia to urea. Urea is made in the liver and excreted in urine. The overall chemical reaction by which ammonia is converted to urea is 2 NH 3 (ammonia) + CO 2 + 3 ATP + H 2 O → H 2 N-CO-NH 2 (urea) + 2 ADP + 4 P i + AMP.

The urea cycle utilizes five intermediate steps, catalyzed by five different enzymes, to convert ammonia to urea, as shown in [link] . The amino acid L-ornithine gets converted into different intermediates before being regenerated at the end of the urea cycle. Hence, the urea cycle is also referred to as the ornithine cycle. The enzyme ornithine transcarbamylase catalyzes a key step in the urea cycle and its deficiency can lead to accumulation of toxic levels of ammonia in the body. The first two reactions occur in the mitochondria and the last three reactions occur in the cytosol. Urea concentration in the blood, called blood urea nitrogen or BUN, is used as an indicator of kidney function.

 The urea cycle begins in the mitochondrion, where bicarbonate (HCO3) is combined with ammonia (NH3) to make carbamoyl phosphate. Two ATP are used in the process. Ornithine transcarbamylase adds the carbamoyl phosphate to a five-carbon amino acid called ornithine to make L-citrulline. L-citrulline leaves the mitochondrion, and an enzyme called arginosuccinate synthetase adds a four-carbon amino acid called L-aspartate to it to make arginosuccinate. In the process, one ATP is converted to AMP and PPi. Arginosuccinate lyase removes a four-carbon fumarate molecule from the arginosuccinate, forming the six-carbon amino acid L-arginine. Arginase-1 removes a urea molecule from the L-arginine, forming ornithine in the process. Urea has a single carbon double-bonded to an oxygen and single-bonded to two ammonia groups. Ornithine enters the mitochondrion, completing the cycle.
The urea cycle converts ammonia to urea.

Evolution connection

Excretion of nitrogenous waste

The theory of evolution proposes that life started in an aquatic environment. It is not surprising to see that biochemical pathways like the urea cycle evolved to adapt to a changing environment when terrestrial life forms evolved. Arid conditions probably led to the evolution of the uric acid pathway as a means of conserving water.

Nitrogenous waste in birds and reptiles: uric acid

Birds, reptiles, and most terrestrial arthropods convert toxic ammonia to uric acid    or the closely related compound guanine (guano) instead of urea. Mammals also form some uric acid during breakdown of nucleic acids. Uric acid is a compound similar to purines found in nucleic acids. It is water insoluble and tends to form a white paste or powder; it is excreted by birds, insects, and reptiles. Conversion of ammonia to uric acid requires more energy and is much more complex than conversion of ammonia to urea [link] .

Part A shows a photo of a freshwater fish and states that many invertebrates and aquatic species excrete ammonia. The chemical structure of ammonia is NH3. Part B shows a photo of a wood rat and states that mammals, many adult amphibians, and some marine species excrete urea. The chemical structure of urea is shown. Urea has two NH2 groups attached to a central carbon. An oxygen is also double-bonded to this central carbon. Part C shows a photo of a pigeon and states that insects, land snails, birds, and many reptiles excrete uric acid. The chemical structure of uric acid is shown. Uric acid has a six-membered carbon ring attached to a five-membered ring. Each ring has two NH groups embedded in it. An oxygen is double-bonded to each ring.
Nitrogenous waste is excreted in different forms by different species. These include (a) ammonia, (b) urea, and (c) uric acid. (credit a: modification of work by Eric Engbretson, USFWS; credit b: modification of work by B. "Moose" Peterson, USFWS; credit c: modification of work by Dave Menke, USFWS)

Everyday connection

Gout

Mammals use uric acid crystals as an antioxidant    in their cells. However, too much uric acid tends to form kidney stones and may also cause a painful condition called gout, where uric acid crystals accumulate in the joints, as illustrated in [link] . Food choices that reduce the amount of nitrogenous bases in the diet help reduce the risk of gout. For example, tea, coffee, and chocolate have purine-like compounds, called xanthines, and should be avoided by people with gout and kidney stones.

Photo shows a toe that is swollen and red.
Gout causes the inflammation visible in this person’s left big toe joint. (credit: "Gonzosft"/Wikimedia Commons)

Section summary

Ammonia is the waste produced by metabolism of nitrogen-containing compounds like proteins and nucleic acids. While aquatic animals can easily excrete ammonia into their watery surroundings, terrestrial animals have evolved special mechanisms to eliminate the toxic ammonia from their systems. Urea is the major byproduct of ammonia metabolism in vertebrate animals. Uric acid is the major byproduct of ammonia metabolism in birds, terrestrial arthropods, and reptiles.

Questions & Answers

there are 3 trimester in human pregnancy
ROHIN Reply
I don't know answer of this question can u help me
ROHIN
yes
Bisa
what is a cell
Fatima Reply
what is genetic
Janet Reply
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Janet
what are the branchas of biology
Prisca Reply
zoology, ecology
Millicent
biochemistry,cytology,herpetology...etc
R0se
genetics, microbiology,botany and embryology
Muhammad
what is a cell
Kulunbawi Reply
cell is smallest unit of life. cells are often cell the building blocks of life...
Muhammad
the first twenty element
Orapinega Reply
what are the characteristics of living things?
R0se
growth,respiration,nutrition,sensitivity, movement,irritability, excretion,death.
Obinna
What is the difference between adaptation and competition in animals
Adeyemi Reply
What is biology
Adeyemi
it is a natural science stadey about living things
Zamiil
Biology is the bronch of science which deals with the study of life is called biology
Aziz
what is the x in 300 stands for?
Ogbudu Reply
the properties of life
Clarinda Reply
response to the environment, reproduction, homeostasis, growth,energy processing etc.....
Pushpam
hello.
Daniela
hi
MacPeter
Good
Thomas
what is reproduction
Tims
Reproduction is a fundamental feature of all known life,each individual organism exist as a result of re production.....or else Multiplying...
R0se
a complete virus particle known as
Darlington Reply
These are formed from identical protein subunitscalled capsomeres.
Pushpam
fabace family plant name
Pushpam Reply
in eukaryotes ...protein channel name which transport protein ...
Pushpam Reply
in bacteria ...chromosomal dna duplicate structure called
Pushpam
what is a prokaryotic cell and a eukaryotic cell
Matilda Reply
There are two types of cells. Eukaryotic and Prokaryotic cells. Prokaryotic cells don't have a nucleus or membrane enclosed organelles (little organs within that cell). They do however carry genetic material but it's not maintained in the nucleus. Prokaryotic cells are also one celled.
juanita
Prokaryotic cells are one celled (single celled).
juanita
Prokaryotic cells are Bacteria and Archea
juanita
Prokaryotic cells are smaller than Eukaryotic cells.
juanita
Eukaryotic cells are more complex. They are much bigger than Prokaryotic cells.
juanita
Eukaryotic cells have a nucleus and membrane bound organelles.
juanita
Eukaryotic cells are animals cells which also includes us.
juanita
Eukaryotic cells are also multicellular.
juanita
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Amna
eukaryotic cells are individual cells .. but eukaryotes are multicellular organisms which consist of many different types of eukaryotic cells
Will
also eukaryotic cells have mitochondria. prokaryotic cells do not
Will
Good
John
in prokaryotes only ribosomes are present... in eukaryotes mitochondria ...glogi bodies ..epidermis .....prokaryotes one envelop but eukaryotes compartment envelop....envelop mean membrane bound organelles......
Pushpam
prokaryotic cell are cells dat have no true nuclei i.e no cell membrane while eukaryotic cell are cell dat have true nuclei i.e have cell membrane
Divine
grt
Thomas
we have 46 pair of somatic cell and 23 pair of chromosomes in our body, pls can someone explain it to me. pls
Matilda Reply
we have 22 pairs of somatic chromosomes and one pair of sex chromosome
Amna
thanks
Matilda
we have 23 pairs of chromosomes,22 pairs of somatic and one pair of sex chromosomes
Amna
23 chromosomes from dad & 23 chromosomes from mom 23 +23=46 total chromosomes
juanita
X & Y chromosomes are called sex cells, the very presence of a Y chromosome means the person is Male.
juanita
XX Female XY Male
juanita
If a Karyotype has more than 46 Chromosomes then nondisjunction occured. For example, having an extra chromosome 21 will cause Down Syndrome.
juanita
in mammal state the different vertebrae and their location in the body
Igbinigie Reply

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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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