Thousands of chemical reactions occur regularly in cells to keep them alive and healthy, as well as your entire body. Chemical processes are frequently linked in chains or pathways. The cell’s metabolism refers to all of the chemical reactions that take place inside the cell.
Take a look at the metabolic diagram below to get a sense of how complicated metabolism is. This jumble of lines reminds me of a map of a vast subway system, or even a fancy circuit board. In actuality, it’s a schematic of a eukaryotic cell’s major metabolic pathways, which include the cells that make up the human body. Each circle represents a reactant or product, and each line represents a reaction.
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Some chemical events in the cell’s metabolic web release energy and can occur spontaneously (without energy input). Others, on the other hand, require additional energy to occur. Cells require a constant influx of energy to fuel their energy-demanding chemical activities, just as you must eat food to replace what your body utilizes. In truth, the energy utilized by your cells comes from the food you eat!
Let’s look at two metabolic processes that are critical to life on Earth: those that create carbohydrates and those that break them down, to give you a better concept of what metabolism is.
Metabolic pathways include the processes of producing and breaking down glucose molecules. A metabolic route is a set of chemical events that are linked together and feed one another. The route takes one or more starting molecules and transforms them to products via a succession of intermediates.
Based on their impact, metabolic pathways can be split into two groups. Photosynthesis is an anabolic (or “building up”) mechanism that creates sugars from smaller molecules. Cellular respiration, on the other hand, is a “breaking down,” or catabolic, system that breaks sugar down into smaller molecules.