35 4.9 Energy Needs of Living Things
Created by: CK-12/Adapted by Christine Miller
These beautiful sled dogs are a metabolic marvel. While running up to 160 kilometres (about 99 miles) a day, they will each consume and burn about 12 thousand calories — about 240 calories per pound per day, which is the equivalent of about 24 Big Macs! A human endurance athlete, in contrast, typically burns only about 100 calories per pound (0.45 kg) each day. Scientists are intrigued by the amazing metabolism of sled dogs, although they still haven’t determined how they use up so much energy. But one thing is certain: all living things need energy for everything they do, whether it’s running a race or blinking an eye. In fact, every cell of your body constantly needs energy just to carry out basic life processes. You probably know that you get energy from the food you eat, but where does food come from? How does it come to contain energy? And how do your cells get the energy from food?
What Is Energy?
In the scientific world, is defined as the ability to do work. You can often see energy at work in living things — a bird flies through the air, a firefly glows in the dark, a dog wags its tail. These are obvious ways that living things use energy, but living things constantly use energy in less obvious ways, as well.
Why Living Things Need Energy
Inside every of all living things, energy is needed to carry out life processes. Energy is required to break down and build up molecules, and to transport many molecules across plasma membranes. All of life’s work needs energy. A lot of energy is also simply lost to the environment as heat. The story of life is a story of energy flow — its capture, its change of form, its use for work, and its loss as heat. Energy (unlike matter) cannot be recycled, so organisms require a constant input of energy. Life runs on chemical energy. Where do living organisms get this chemical energy?
How Organisms Get Energy
The chemical energy that organisms need comes from food. consists of organic molecules that store energy in their chemical bonds. In terms of obtaining food for energy, there are two types of organisms: autotrophs and heterotrophs.
are organisms that capture from nonliving sources and transfer that energy into the living part of the ecosystem. They are also able to make their own food. Most autotrophs use the energy in sunlight to make food in the process of . Only certain organisms — such as plants, algae, and some bacteria — can make food through photosynthesis. Some photosynthetic organisms are shown in Figure 4.9.2.
|Figure 4.9.2 Photosynthetic autotrophs, which make food using the energy in sunlight, include plants (left), algae (middle), and certain bacteria (right).|
are also called . They produce food not only for themselves, but for all other living things (known as consumers), as well. This is why autotrophs form the basis of food chains, such as the food chain shown In Figure 4.9.3.
A food chain shows how energy and matter flow from producers to consumers. Matter is recycled, but energy must keep flowing into the system. Where does this energy come from?
Watch the video “The simple story of photosynthesis and food – Amanda Ooten” from TED-Ed to learn more about photosynthesis:
The simple story of photosynthesis and food – Amanda Ooten, TED-Ed, 2013.
are living things that cannot make their own food. Instead, they get their food by consuming other organisms, which is why they are also called . They may consume or other . Heterotrophs include all animals and fungi, as well as many single-celled organisms. In Figure 4.9.3, all of the organisms are consumers except for the grasses and phytoplankton. What do you think would happen to consumers if all producers were to vanish from Earth?
Energy Molecules: Glucose and ATP
Organisms mainly use two types of molecules for chemical energy: glucose and ATP. Both molecules are used as fuels throughout the living world. Both molecules are also key players in the process of .
is a with the chemical formula C6H12O6. It stores chemical in a concentrated, stable form. In your body, glucose is the form of energy that is carried in your blood and taken up by each of your trillions of . Glucose is the end product of , and it is the nearly universal food for life. In Figure 4.9.4, you can see how photosynthesis stores energy from the sun in the glucose molecule and then how cellular respiration breaks the bonds in glucose to retrieve the energy.
If you remember from section 3.7 Nucleic Acids, (adenosine triphosphate) is the energy-carrying molecule that cells use to power most cellular processes (nerve impulse conduction, protein synthesis and active transport are good examples of cell processes that rely on ATP as their energy source). ATP is made during the first half of photosynthesis and then used for energy during the second half of photosynthesis, when glucose is made. ATP releases energy when it gives up one of its three phosphate groups (Pi) and changes to ADP (adenosine diphosphate, which has two phosphate groups), as shown in Figure 4.9.5. Thus, the breakdown of ATP into ADP + Pi is a catabolic reaction that releases energy (exothermic). ATP is made from the combination of ADP and Pi, an anabolic reaction that takes in energy (endothermic).
Why Organisms Need Both Glucose and ATP
Why do living things need glucose if ATP is the molecule that cells use for energy? Why don’t autotrophs just make ATP and be done with it? The answer is in the “packaging.” A molecule of glucose contains more chemical energy in a smaller “package” than a molecule of ATP. Glucose is also more stable than ATP. Therefore, glucose is better for storing and transporting energy. Glucose, however, is too powerful for cells to use. ATP, on the other hand, contains just the right amount of energy to power life processes within cells. For these reasons, both glucose and ATP are needed by living things.
How Energy Flows Through Living Things
The flow of energy through living organisms begins with photosynthesis. This process stores energy from sunlight in the chemical bonds of glucose. By breaking the chemical bonds in glucose, cells release the stored energy and make the ATP they need. The process in which glucose is broken down and ATP is made is called .
Photosynthesis and cellular respiration are like two sides of the same coin. This is apparent in Figure 4.9.6. The products of one process are the reactants of the other. Together, the two processes store and release energy in living organisms. The two processes also work together to recycle oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere.
- Energy is the ability to do work. It is needed by all living things and every living to carry out life processes, such as breaking down and building up molecules, and transporting many molecules across cell membranes.
- The form of that living things need for these processes is chemical energy, and it comes from food. Food consists of organic molecules that store energy in their chemical bonds.
- make their own food. Plants, for example, make food by . Autotrophs are also called .
- s obtain food by eating other organisms. Heterotrophs are also known as .
- Organisms mainly use the molecules and for . Glucose is a compact, stable form of energy that is carried in the blood and taken up by cells. ATP contains less energy and is used to power cell processes.
- The flow of energy through living things begins with photosynthesis, which creates glucose. In a process called , organisms’ cells break down glucose and make the ATP they need.
- Define energy.
- Why do living things need energy?
- Compare and contrast the two basic ways that organisms get energy.
- Describe the roles and relationships of the energy molecules glucose and ATP.
- Summarize how energy flows through living things.
- Why does the transformation of ATP to ADP release energy?
Learn Biology: Autotrophs vs. Heterotrophs, Mahalodotcom, 2011.
Energy Transfer in Trophic Levels, Teacher’s Pet, 2015.
- Plant [photo] by Ren Ran on Unsplash is used under the Unsplash License (https://unsplash.com/license).
- Green Algae by Tristan Schmurr on Flickr is used under a CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/) license.
- Cyanobacteria by Argon National Laboratory on Flickr is used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/) license.
Photosynthesis and respiration by Christine Miller is used under a CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) license.
LadyofHats/CK-12 Foundation. (2016, August 15). Figure 5: Photosynthesis and cellular respiration [digital image]. In Brainard, J., and Henderson, R., CK-12’s College Human Biology FlexBook® (Section 4.9). CK-12 Foundation. https://www.ck12.org/book/ck-12-college-human-biology/section/4.9/
Mahalodotcom. (2011, January 14). Learn biology: Autotrophs vs. heterotrophs. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDalQv7d2cs
Teacher’s Pet. (2015, March 23). Energy transfer in trophic levels. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0glkXIj1DgE&feature=emb_logo
TED-Ed. (2013, March 5). The simple story of photosynthesis and food – Amanda Ooten. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eo5XndJaz-Y&feature=youtu.be
The ability to do work.
The smallest unit of life, consisting of at least a membrane, cytoplasm, and genetic material.
Any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for an organism.
An organism that produces complex organic compounds (such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) from simple substances present in its surroundings, generally using energy from light (photosynthesis) or inorganic chemical reactions (chemosynthesis).
Photosynthesis is a process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy into chemical energy that can later be released to fuel the organisms' activities.
Organisms that make their own food. They get energy from chemicals or the sun, and with the help of water, convert that energy into useable energy in the form of sugar, or food. The most common example of a producer are plants.
An organism that cannot produce its own food, relying instead on the intake of nutrition from other sources of organic carbon, mainly plant or animal matter. In the food chain, heterotrophs are primary, secondary and tertiary consumers, but not producers.
Organisms that eat organisms from a different population in order to satisfy their energy needs.
Glucose (also called dextrose) is a simple sugar with the molecular formula C6H12O6. Glucose is the most abundant monosaccharide, a subcategory of carbohydrates. Glucose is mainly made by plants and most algae during photosynthesis from water and carbon dioxide, using energy from sunlight.
The simplest form of sugar and the most basic units of carbohydrates, also called simple sugars.
A complex organic chemical that provides energy to drive many processes in living cells, e.g. muscle contraction, nerve impulse propagation, and chemical synthesis. Found in all forms of life, ATP is often referred to as the "molecular unit of currency" of intracellular energy transfer.
A set of metabolic reactions and processes that take place in the cells of organisms to convert biochemical energy from nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP).