Cellular respiration

All organisms respire in order to release energy to fuel their living processes. The respiration can be aerobic, which uses glucose and oxygen, or anaerobic which uses only glucose. Because this process occurs in all life, we call it a universal chemical process.

Releasing energy

Respiration releases energy - it is an exothermic process. This means it releases heat energy.

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Don't confuse respiration with photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis is the process by which plants, and some bacteria, synthesise food molecules which they then use, in addition to other things, for respiration. The process of photosynthesis requires energy – it is endothermic.

Don't confuse respiration with breathing, which is ventilation. Respiration happens in mitochondria within cells.

Why organisms need energy

Every cell in a living organism requires energy to live. This energy is released during cellular respiration in the form of ATP and is used:

  • to drive the chemical reactions needed to keep organisms alive - the reactions to build complex carbohydrates, proteins and lipids from the products of photosynthesis in plants, and the products of digestion in animals, require energy
  • movement - in animals, energy is needed to make muscles contract, while in plants, it is needed for transport of substances in the phloem

Respiration is only around 40 per cent efficient. As animals respire, heat is also released. In birds and mammals, this heat is distributed around the body by the blood. It keeps these animals warm and helps to keep a constant internal temperature.

Energy is also used: