Aerobic respiration | Definition

aerobic respiration, light astronaut, astronaut cat

Table of Contents

Aerobic respiration definition

Aerobic respiration is the process by which oxygen is used to convert fuel into energy. This fuel is typically in the form of carbohydrates (sugars), and the byproducts are typically carbon dioxide and water.

Aerobic is derived from the Greek word aēr ‘air’, meaning for aerobic respiration to occur, air (oxygen) is required.

Steps involved in aerobic respiration

Aerobic respiration is a process that uses oxygen to convert glucose into energy. This process occurs in the mitochondria, which are the powerhouses of the cell. Aerobic respiration is the most efficient way for the body to produce energy, and it produces far more energy than anaerobic respiration.

Aerobic respiration has four main steps: glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, electron transport, and oxidative phosphorylation. Glycolysis is the breakdown of glucose into two molecules of pyruvate. The Krebs cycle is the breakdown of pyruvate into carbon dioxide and water. Electron transport is the transfer of electrons from one molecule to another. Oxidative phosphorylation is the production of ATP, or energy, from the transfer of electrons.

Aerobic respiration is a very efficient way to produce energy. For every molecule of glucose that is broken down, 38 molecules of ATP are produced. This is much more ATP than is produced by anaerobic respiration. Aerobic respiration also produces less carbon dioxide than anaerobic respiration.

when studying medicine, why should you care?

In day-to-day clinical practice (and for your medical exams), you’ll likely not come across in-depth Crebs cycle questions. So then, why learn about this at all?

There are a number of pathologies which results from the failure or modification of steps in this aerobic respiration pathway and having a general understanding of why oxygen is so important, will help when it comes time to understand biochemistry and genetic diseases. Of course, this is more relevant to those choosing to subspecialise in the very niche field of medical genetics.

For those of us in a more general medical/surgical speciality, another crucial reason is the study of microbiology (bugs and microbes that cause infection). Regardless of the medical field you’ll later specialise in, you will come across infections and their wider diseases. Therefore knowing which micro-organisms are aerobic or anaerobic, will point you to their geographical and anatomical origins, and to the antibiotics most likely to work in their treatments.

To help healthcare students, we’ve put together a Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Basics course, aimed at medical students, PA, nursing students, pharmacists etc. This course is combined with a microbiology visual mnemonics course. As such you get the normal lectures (audio lectures and lecture notes), and the option to speed up your learning with visual mnemonics (videos, review images and summary workbook) and get higher grades.

PS: For those interested in the featured image on this blog post, in our medical mnemonics course, we use astronauts in white spacesuits to represent aerobic respiration and those in black spacesuits for anaerobic respiration. That is because astronauts rely on their spacesuits for oxygen and breathing, and the white spacesuit looks bright and full of life, in contrast to the dark and dreary spacesuit.

Note: MDScene is not affiliated with the inter/national journals referenced (via hyperlink), however, they are held in high regard within the scientific community and used by health professionals worldwide


This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.