What is anaerobic respiration?

anaerobic respiration, dark astronaut

Table of Contents

What is Anaerobic Respiration?

Anaerobic respiration is the process of converting fuel into energy, without the use of oxygen. This energy can then be used by the cell to survive. As with aerobic respiration, the fuel source of anaerobic respiration is carbohydrates (sugars), and the energy is in the form of ATP molecules.

Summary of differences between anaerobic respiration and aerobic respiration

In both aerobic and anaerobic respiration, the sugar molecule is converted into pyruvate molecules. Aerobic respiration then sends this to the mitochondria to be converted into ATP. Whereas anaerobic respiration, keeps the pyruvate molecules in the cytoplasm of the cell; it is here that a series of chemical reactions occur to transform it into ATP.

Instead of using oxygen in the final stage of the respiration reaction, anaerobes use other electron-acceptors e.g. sulfur, sulfates, nitrates, fumarate etc.

The by-product of anaerobic respiration includes lactic acid and alcohol.

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


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