Aerobic Respiration for AP Biology

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Oct 24, 2011

Practice problems for these concepts can be found at:  Respiration Review Questions for AP Biology


Glycolysis occurs in the cytoplasm of cells and is the beginning pathway for both aerobic and anaerobic respiration. During glycolysis, a glucose molecule is broken down through a series of reactions into two molecules of pyruvate. It is important to remember that oxygen plays no role in glycolysis. This reaction can occur in oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor environments. However, when in an environment lacking oxygen, glycolysis slows because the cells run out (become depleted) of NAD+. For reasons we will discuss later, a lack of oxygen prevents oxidative phosphorylation from occurring, causing a buildup of NADH in the cells. This buildup causes a shortage of NAD+. This is bad for glycolysis because it requires NAD+ to function. Fermentation is the solution to this problem—it takes the excess NADH that builds up and converts it back to NAD+ so that glycolysis can continue. More to come on fermentation later … be patient.

To reiterate, the AP Biology exam will not require you to memorize the various steps of respiration. Your time is better spent studying the broad explanation of the process of respiration, to understand the basic process, and become comfortable with respiration as a whole. Major concepts are the key. I will explain the specific steps of glycolysis because they will help you understand the big picture—but do not memorize them all. Save the space for other facts you have to know from other chapters of this book.

Examine Figure 7.1, which illustrates the general layout of glycolysis. The beginning steps of glycolysis require energy input. The first step adds a phosphate to a molecule of glucose with the assistance of an ATP molecule to produce glucose-6-phosphate (G6P). The newly formed G6P rearranges to form a molecule named fructose-6-phosphate (F6P). Another molecule of ATP is required for the next step, which adds another phosphate group to produce fructose 1,6-biphosphate. Already, glycolysis has used two of the ATP molecules that it is trying to produce—seems stupid … but be patient … the genius is yet to show its face. F6P splits into two 3-carbon-long fragments known as PGAL (glyceraldehyde phosphate). With the formation of PGAL, the energy-producing portion of glycolysis begins. Each PGAL molecule takes on an inorganic phosphate from the cytoplasm to produce 1,3-diphosphoglycerate. During this reaction, each PGAL gives up two electrons and a hydrogen to molecu es of NAD+ to form the all-important NADH molecules. The next step is a big one, as it leads to the production of the first ATP molecule in the process of respiration—the 1,3-diphosphoglycerate molecules donate one of their two phosphates to molecules of ADP to produce ATP and 3-phosphoglycerate (3PG). You'll notice that there are two ATP molecules formed herebecause before this step, the single molecule of glucose divided into two 3-carbon fragments. After 3PG rearranges to form 2-phosphoglycerate, phosphoenolpyruvate (PEP) is formed,which donates a phosphate group to molecules of ADP to form another pair of ATP molecules and pyruvate. This is the final step of glycolysis. In total, two molecules each of ATP, NADH, and pyruvate are formed during this process. Glycolysis produces the same result under anaerobic conditions as it does under aerobic conditions: two ATP molecules. If oxygen is present, more ATP is later made by oxidative phosphorylation.

Aerobic Respiration

Aerobic Respiration

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