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The photo on the left shows acorns growing on an oak tree. The photo on the right shows a squirrel eating.
Plants, like this oak tree and acorn, use energy from sunlight to make sugar and other organic molecules. Both plants and animals (like this squirrel) use cellular respiration to derive energy from the organic molecules originally produced by plants. (credit “acorn”: modification of work by Noel Reynolds; credit “squirrel”: modification of work by Dawn Huczek)

Metabolic pathways

The processes of making and breaking down sugar molecules illustrate two types of metabolic pathways. A metabolic pathway is a series of interconnected biochemical reactions that convert a substrate molecule or molecules, step-by-step, through a series of metabolic intermediates, eventually yielding a final product or products. In the case of sugar metabolism, the first metabolic pathway synthesized sugar from smaller molecules, and the other pathway broke sugar down into smaller molecules. These two opposite processes—the first requiring energy and the second producing energy—are referred to as anabolic (building) and catabolic (breaking down) pathways, respectively. Consequently, metabolism is composed of building (anabolism) and degradation (catabolism).

Evolution connection

At the base of the evolutionary tree is the prokaryotic ancestor. This ancestor gave rise to archaebacteria, eubacteria, and Protista, which in turn gave rise to plants, fungi, and animals.
This tree shows the evolution of the various branches of life. The vertical dimension is time. Early life forms, in blue, used anaerobic metabolism to obtain energy from their surroundings.

Evolution of metabolic pathways

There is more to the complexity of metabolism than understanding the metabolic pathways alone. Metabolic complexity varies from organism to organism. Photosynthesis is the primary pathway in which photosynthetic organisms like plants (the majority of global synthesis is done by planktonic algae) harvest the sun’s energy and convert it into carbohydrates. The by-product of photosynthesis is oxygen, required by some cells to carry out cellular respiration. During cellular respiration, oxygen aids in the catabolic breakdown of carbon compounds, like carbohydrates. Among the products of this catabolism are CO 2 and ATP. In addition, some eukaryotes perform catabolic processes without oxygen (fermentation); that is, they perform or use anaerobic metabolism.

Organisms probably evolved anaerobic metabolism to survive (living organisms came into existence about 3.8 billion years ago, when the atmosphere lacked oxygen). Despite the differences between organisms and the complexity of metabolism, researchers have found that all branches of life share some of the same metabolic pathways, suggesting that all organisms evolved from the same ancient common ancestor ( [link] ). Evidence indicates that over time, the pathways diverged, adding specialized enzymes to allow organisms to better adapt to their environment, thus increasing their chance to survive. However, the underlying principle remains that all organisms must harvest energy from their environment and convert it to ATP to carry out cellular functions.

Anabolic and catabolic pathways

Anabolic pathways require an input of energy to synthesize complex molecules from simpler ones. Synthesizing sugar from CO 2 is one example. Other examples are the synthesis of large proteins from amino acid building blocks, and the synthesis of new DNA strands from nucleic acid building blocks. These biosynthetic processes are critical to the life of the cell, take place constantly, and demand energy provided by ATP and other high-energy molecules like NADH (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) and NADPH ( [link] ).

ATP is an important molecule for cells to have in sufficient supply at all times. The breakdown of sugars illustrates how a single molecule of glucose can store enough energy to make a great deal of ATP, 36 to 38 molecules. This is a catabolic    pathway. Catabolic pathways involve the degradation (or breakdown) of complex molecules into simpler ones. Molecular energy stored in the bonds of complex molecules is released in catabolic pathways and harvested in such a way that it can be used to produce ATP. Other energy-storing molecules, such as fats, are also broken down through similar catabolic reactions to release energy and make ATP ( [link] ).

It is important to know that the chemical reactions of metabolic pathways don’t take place spontaneously. Each reaction step is facilitated, or catalyzed, by a protein called an enzyme. Enzymes are important for catalyzing all types of biological reactions—those that require energy as well as those that release energy.

Anabolic and catabolic pathways are shown. In the anabolic pathway (top), four small molecules have energy added to them to make one large molecule. In the catabolic pathway (bottom), one large molecule is broken down into two components: four small molecules plus energy.
Anabolic pathways are those that require energy to synthesize larger molecules. Catabolic pathways are those that generate energy by breaking down larger molecules. Both types of pathways are required for maintaining the cell’s energy balance.

Section summary

Cells perform the functions of life through various chemical reactions. A cell’s metabolism refers to the chemical reactions that take place within it. There are metabolic reactions that involve the breaking down of complex chemicals into simpler ones, such as the breakdown of large macromolecules. This process is referred to as catabolism, and such reactions are associated with a release of energy. On the other end of the spectrum, anabolism refers to metabolic processes that build complex molecules out of simpler ones, such as the synthesis of macromolecules. Anabolic processes require energy. Glucose synthesis and glucose breakdown are examples of anabolic and catabolic pathways, respectively.

Questions & Answers

what is treats
Raih Reply
what are the organelles in cell that involves in protein sythenis
Rita Reply
what is a melanin?
Judith Reply
Why do parasites take on a parasitic life?
Asadullah Reply
what is cell
Ousman Reply
A cell is the basic structure unit of an organ
Yaa
what is respiration
Igwe
what is organisms?
Bashir
What will to a cell if the nucleus is removed..?
Goodrick Reply
When a cell nucleus removed then the cell will not be able to function properly, it will not be able to grow .All the metabolic functioning of the cell will stop .Without nucleus the cell will lose it's control. It can not carry out cellular reproduction .
Evelyn
write a short note on how the kidney carry out osmoregulation in man
Rhoda Reply
Kidney play a very large role in human osoregulation by regulating the amount of water reabsorbed from glomerular filtrate in kidney as tubules, which is controlled by hormones such as antrdiuvetic hormone (ADH) , aldosterone and angiotensin.
Evelyn
kidney is capable of osmoregulation in mammal ,
Judith
simple definition for respiratory system
Gift Reply
Respiratory system is a network of organs and tissues that helps you to breathe or help in getting the rids of oxygen and discharge of carbon dioxide in the body.
Ruhiyatu
What are uses of respiratory system
Joster
how it functions
Ousman
what is inresparetion
Fikkabex
Why do parasites take on a parasitic life?
Asadullah
how is a aerenchyma tissue adapted to its function
fatuma Reply
Have large air spaces that store air for gaseous exchange... Large air spaces also facilitate bouyancy.
Goodrick
what does DNA mean
innocent Reply
dioxiribo nucleic acid
Lekan
Deoxyribonucleic acid
Goodrick
dioxide nucleic acid
Shadrack
what does RNA mean
Shadrack
Ribonucleic acid
Goodrick
what is DNA and RNA
Miriam
what is a zygote
Victor Reply
zygote is developed or fertilized egg cell
Lekan
what is the difference between cell wall and cell membrane
Ruhiyatu Reply
cell wall is found in plant while cell membrane is found in animal cell
Lekan
please this is the main answer to that question okay Cell wall gives shape and support to the cell whiles Cell membrane support the movement of substances into and out of the cell. This question is very tricky that's why I asked.
Ruhiyatu
cell wall makes the cell turgid,in times of flaccidity while cell membrane is a semi permeable tissue
Judith
how cell I form
Elijah Reply
what difference between animal cell and plant cell
Lazarus Reply
what is animal call
Rita
Animal cell does not have a cell wall but plant cell have a cell wall
Ruhiyatu
plant have cell Wall well animal have not cell wall
Yula
animal cell has a lysosome, while, plant cell does not
Judith
what is fertilization?
Muhamed Reply
Fertilization is the fusion of male sex cell and female sex cell to form a zygote.
Ruhiyatu

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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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