Cellular processes require a steady supply of energy. From where, and in what form, does this energy come? How do living cells obtain energy, and how do they use it? This chapter will discuss different forms of energy and the physical laws that govern energy transfer. This chapter will also describe how cells use energy and replenish it, and how chemical reactions in the cell are performed with great efficiency.
- 6.0: Prelude to Metabolism
- Virtually every task performed by living organisms requires energy. Energy is needed to perform heavy labor and exercise, but humans also use a great deal of energy while thinking, and even during sleep. In fact, the living cells of every organism constantly use energy. Nutrients and other molecules are imported, metabolized (broken down) and possibly synthesized into new molecules, modified if needed, transported around the cell, and may be distributed to the entire organism.
- 6.1: Energy and Metabolism
- 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.
- 6.2: Potential, Kinetic, Free, and Activation Energy
- Energy is defined as the ability to do work and exists in different forms. For example, electrical energy, light energy, and heat energy are all different types of energy. While these are all familiar types of energy that one can see or feel, there is another type of energy that is much less tangible. To appreciate the way energy flows into and out of biological systems, it is important to understand more about the different types of energy that exist in the physical world.
- 6.3: The Laws of Thermodynamics
- Biological organisms are open systems. Energy is exchanged between them and their surroundings, as they consume energy-storing molecules and release energy to the environment by doing work. Like all things in the physical world, energy is subject to the laws of physics. The laws of thermodynamics govern the transfer of energy in and among all systems in the universe.
- 6.4: ATP: Adenosine Triphosphate
- Even exergonic, energy-releasing reactions require a small amount of activation energy in order 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.
- 6.5: Enzymes
- A substance that helps a chemical reaction to occur is a catalyst, and the special molecules that catalyze biochemical reactions are called enzymes. Almost all enzymes are proteins, made up of chains of amino acids, and they perform the critical task of lowering the activation energies of chemical reactions inside the cell. Enzymes do this by binding to the reactant molecules, and holding them in such a way as to make the chemical bond-breaking and bond-forming processes take place more readily.
Thumbnail: diagram showing the induced fit model in enzymes (Public Domain; LadyofHats).