Cellular Respiration

Heterotrophs need to obtain energy from consuming autotrophs.  Remember autotrophs turn light energy into chemical energy, which is stored as the sugar glucose.  The process of releasing energy by breaking down glucose and other food in the presence of oxygen is called cellular respiration.

Cellular respiration is not exactly, but can be roughly viewed as, the reverse process as photosynthesis.  Oxygen and glucose combine to breakdown and reassemble as carbon dioxide, water, and energy.

6O2 + C6H12O6 -> 6CO2 + 6H2O + ATP

oxygen + glucose -> carbon dioxide + water + energy

This process is simplified of course.  There’s a whole confusing mess of glycolysis, ATP, and NADH which the average high school bio teacher would want you to know, but honestly it’s overkill (…it’s not even in our state standards…).

Now there are cases when cells don’t get enough oxygen.  In this case, the cells produce nasty waste products that they remove from their body.  Some microorganisms, such as yeast, produce alcohol in the absence of oxygen.  This is called alcoholic fermentation.  Other organisms, such as yourself, produce lactic acid in the absence of oxygen.  Fittingly, this is called lactic acid fermentation.  Fermentation is vital in our food system.  Production of alcohol is quite the large business throughout the world; as is production of foods such as yogurt and pickles which utilize lactic acid.

One last point of overkill: the Krebs cycle and electron transport chain.  Unless you go to college for Biology, you have no need for this… and honestly, I went to college for Biology and I don’t have a use for it, short of torturing students with it if I was an evil person.

Photosynthesis

Previously you read about autotrophs and heterotrophs.  The difference being in the way they obtain energy.  Plants are autotrophs, and today I’d like to focus on how plants get the energy they need.

Plants need the following things to get energy to live:

  • Water (H2O)
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
  • Sunlight

The process of converting H2O and CO2 in the presence of sunlight into energy is called photosynthesis.

In order for the water to get to the leaves of a plant where photosynthesis takes place, it is absorbed from the surrounding ground through roots and is brought up through tissue like your blood vessels.

The carbon dioxide is absorbed my the leaf directly through openings (or pores) on the under side of the leaf.

Light-absorbing molecules called pigments capture sunlight for the plant.  The primary pigment in plants is called chlorophyll.  Chlorophyll gives plants their green color because it absorbs reds and blues and reflects green!

Chlorophyll is housed in organelles called chloroplasts.  This is where photosynthesis takes place.

The equation for synthesis looks like this:

6CO2 + 6H2O (in the process of light) -> C6H12O6 + 6O2

carbon dioxide (in) + water (in) -> glucose (used for energy) + oxygen (out)

(That’s the same oxygen we need to breathe!!!)

All that happens in plants which are pretty fascinating, even if they aren’t furry and cuddly!

Starting Things Off – The Roundup

I’m not ready to jump in with the Biology just quite yet.  Let’s get this thing started with some currents events.   Not enough teachers focus on what’s happening in the day-to-day real world events of their subject.  Here are a few things I’ve found within the past week or so that caught my eye, and I hope they interest you as well:

“Fossil Find Challenges Theories on T. Rex” Many large media outlets covered this story (at least on the ‘net).  A new dino fossil makes scientists rethink T. Rex evolution.

“How Long Would It Take a Physics Lecture to Actually Kill You?” A few liberties need to be taken, but completely scientifically plausible and the answer to a question many of us wondered at one point.  (Based on the assumption of running out of oxygen, not dieing from CO2 as one commenter points out.)

Carl Zimmer’s “Your Brain Isn’t Hiding Superpowers From You”  This post’s a little older than a week, but it helps debunk a widely believed myth.

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