Biology » Biology 204: Cell Metabolism » ATP: Adenosine Triphosphate

Glossary of Words

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The Laws of Thermodynamics

In studying energy, scientists use the term “system” to refer to the matter and its environment involved in energy transfers. Everything outside of the system is called the surroundings. Single cells are biological systems. You can think of systems as having a certain amount of order. It takes energy to make a system more ordered. The more ordered a system is, the lower its entropy. Entropy is a measure of the disorder of a system. As a system becomes more disordered, the lower its energy and the higher its entropy become.

A series of laws, called the laws of thermodynamics, describe the properties and processes of energy transfer. The first law states that the total amount of energy in the universe is constant. This means that energy can’t be created or destroyed, only transferred or transformed. The second law of thermodynamics states that every energy transfer involves some loss of energy in an unusable form, such as heat energy, resulting in a more disordered system. In other words, no energy transfer is completely efficient and tends toward disorder.

Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP)

ATP is the primary energy-supplying molecule for living cells. ATP consists of a nucleotide, a five-carbon sugar, and three phosphate groups. The bonds that connect the phosphates (phosphoanhydride bonds) have high-energy content. The energy released from the hydrolysis of ATP into ADP + Pi is used to perform cellular work.

Cells use ATP to perform work by coupling the exergonic reaction of ATP hydrolysis with endergonic reactions. ATP donates its phosphate group to another molecule via a process known as phosphorylation. The phosphorylated molecule is at a higher-energy state and is less stable than its unphosphorylated form, and this added energy from the addition of the phosphate allows the molecule to undergo its endergonic reaction.

Glossary of Words

ATP

adenosine triphosphate, the cell’s energy currency

Entropy (S)

measure of randomness or disorder within a system

Heat

energy energy transferred from one system to another that is not work (energy of the motion of molecules or particles)

Phosphoanhydride bond

bond that connects phosphates in an ATP molecule

Thermodynamics

study of energy and energy transfer involving physical matter

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