Nearly all organisms perform glycolysis, the first part of both aerobic and anaerobic respiration. One of the key enzymes of glycolysis is pyruvate kinase. Without this enzyme, an organism will die because it is unable to convert nutrients into the energy it needs for survival. Scientists have taken advantage of that fact by blocking pyruvate kinase in some deadly parasites, such as the ones that cause African Sleeping Sickness and Chagas disease.
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. Most of the ATP generated during the aerobic catabolism of glucose, however, is not generated directly from these pathways. Rather, it is derived from a process that begins with moving electrons through a series of electron transporters that undergo redox reactions. This causes hydrogen ions to accumulate within the matrix space. Therefore, a concentration gradient forms in which hydrogen ions diffuse out of the matrix space by passing through ATP synthase. The current of hydrogen ions powers the catalytic action of ATP synthase, which phosphorylates ADP, producing ATP.
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Cellular respiration must be regulated in order to provide balanced amounts of energy in the form of ATP. The cell also must generate a number of intermediate compounds that are used in the anabolism and catabolism of macromolecules. Without controls, metabolic reactions would quickly come to a stand-still as the forward and backward reactions reached a state of equilibrium. Resources would be used inappropriately. A cell does not need the maximum amount of ATP that it can make all the time: At times, the cell needs to shunt some of the intermediates to pathways for amino acid, protein, glycogen, lipid, and nucleic acid production. In short, the cell needs to control its metabolism.
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Metabolic pathways should be thought of as porous—that is, substances enter from other pathways, and intermediates leave for other pathways. These pathways are not closed systems. Many of the substrates, intermediates, and products in a particular pathway are reactants in other pathways.
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Energy production within a cell involves many coordinated chemical pathways. Most of these pathways are combinations of oxidation and reduction reactions. Oxidation and reduction occur in tandem. An oxidation reaction strips an electron from an atom in a compound, and the addition of this electron to another compound is a reduction reaction. Because oxidation and reduction usually occur together, these pairs of reactions are called oxidation reduction reactions, or redox reactions.
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In aerobic respiration, the final electron acceptor is an oxygen molecule, O2. If aerobic respiration occurs, then ATP will be produced using the energy of high-energy electrons carried by NADH or FADH2 to the electron transport chain. If aerobic respiration does not occur, NADH must be reoxidized to NAD+ for reuse as an electron carrier for the glycolytic pathway to continue. How is this done? Some living systems use an organic molecule as the final electron acceptor. Processes that use an organic molecule to regenerate NAD+ from NADH are collectively referred to as fermentation. In contrast, some living systems use an inorganic molecule as a final electron acceptor. Both methods are called anaerobic cellular respiration in which organisms convert energy for their use in the absence of oxygen.
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If oxygen is available, aerobic respiration will go forward. In eukaryotic cells, the pyruvate molecules produced at the end of glycolysis are transported into mitochondria. There, pyruvate will be transformed into an acetyl group that will be picked up and activated by a carrier compound called coenzyme A (CoA). The resulting compound is called acetyl CoA. CoA is made from vitamin B5, pantothenic acid. Acetyl CoA can be used in a variety of ways by the cell, but its major function is to deliver the acetyl group derived from pyruvate to the next stage of the pathway in glucose catabolism.
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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. The first part of the glycolysis pathway traps the glucose molecule in the cell and uses energy to modify it so that the six-carbon sugar molecule can be split evenly into the two three-carbon molecules. The second part of glycolysis extracts energy from the molecules and stores it in the form of ATP and NADH, the reduced form of NAD+.