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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Explain what metabolic pathways are and describe the two major types of metabolic pathways
  • Discuss how chemical reactions play a role in energy transfer

Scientists use the term bioenergetics     to discuss the concept of energy flow ( [link] ) through living systems, such as cells. Cellular processes such as the building and breaking down of complex molecules occur through stepwise chemical reactions. Some of these chemical reactions are spontaneous and release energy, whereas others require energy to proceed. Just as living things must continually consume food to replenish what has been used, cells must continually produce more energy to replenish that used by the many energy-requiring chemical reactions that constantly take place. All of the chemical reactions that take place inside cells, including those that use energy and those that release energy, are the cell’s metabolism     .

This diagram shows energy from the sun being transferred to producers, such as plants, as well as releasing heat. The producers in turn transfer the energy to consumers and decomposers, which release heat. Animals also transfer energy to decomposers.
Most life forms on earth get their energy from the sun. Plants use photosynthesis to capture sunlight, and herbivores eat those plants to obtain energy. Carnivores eat the herbivores, and decomposers digest plant and animal matter.

6.5a metabolism of carbohydrates

The metabolism of sugar (a simple carbohydrate) is a classic example of the many cellular processes that use and produce energy. Living things consume sugar as a major energy source, because sugar molecules have a great deal of energy stored within their bonds. The breakdown of glucose, a simple sugar, is described by the equation:

C 6 H 12 O 6 + 6O 2 6 CO 2 + 6H 2 O + energy size 12{C rSub { size 8{6} } H rSub { size 8{12} } O rSub { size 8{2} } } {}

Carbohydrates that are consumed have their origins in photosynthesizing organisms like plants ( [link] ). During photosynthesis, plants use the energy of sunlight to convert carbon dioxide gas (CO 2 ) into sugar molecules, like glucose (C 6 H 12 O 6 ). Because this process involves synthesizing a larger, energy-storing molecule, it requires an input of energy to proceed. The synthesis of glucose is described by this equation (notice that it is the reverse of the previous equation):

6CO 2 + 6H 2 O + energy C 6 H 12 O 6 + 6O 2 size 12{C rSub { size 8{6} } H rSub { size 8{12} } O rSub { size 8{2} } } {}

During the chemical reactions of photosynthesis, energy is provided in the form of a very high-energy molecule called ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, which is the primary energy currency of all cells. Just as the dollar is used as currency to buy goods, cells use molecules of ATP as energy currency to perform immediate work. The sugar (glucose) is stored as starch or glycogen. Energy-storing polymers like these are broken down into glucose to supply molecules of ATP.

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)

6.5b 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 are sped up, 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 fields keep nano created devices from performing or assimulating ? Magnetic fields ? Are do they assimilate ?
Stoney Reply
why we need to study biomolecules, molecular biology in nanotechnology?
Adin Reply
?
Kyle
yes I'm doing my masters in nanotechnology, we are being studying all these domains as well..
Adin
why?
Adin
what school?
Kyle
biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
Joe
anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
research.net
kanaga
sciencedirect big data base
Ernesto
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
Bharti
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
Daniel
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
Maciej
characteristics of micro business
Abigail
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Anassong
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
NANO
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
s.
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
Tarell
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
Damian
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
Tarell
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
Virgil
is Bucky paper clear?
CYNTHIA
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
NANO
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Harper
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
s.
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
SUYASH Reply
for screen printed electrodes ?
SUYASH
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
Ebrahim
or in general
Ebrahim
in general
s.
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
tahir
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
Cied
what is biological synthesis of nanoparticles
Sanket Reply
what's the easiest and fastest way to the synthesize AgNP?
Damian Reply
China
Cied
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
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Source:  OpenStax, General biology part i - mixed majors. OpenStax CNX. May 16, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11749/1.5
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