ATP is the "currency" of cellular energy

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the principal cellular transporter of chemical energy. Energy from digested food has to be converted to a transportable, usable form so that it can get to where it's needed and be readily available to support crucial chemical processes. Organisms remove the energy stored in the bonds of food and store most of it in the third phosphate bond of ATP

Structure of ATP

The figure below shows the molecular structure of ATP. Biological systems have evolved to be quite economical about the use of certain chemical compounds; notice that ATP is really just a slightly modified RNA nucleotide, consisting of the purine base adenine, the sugar ribose and three phosphate groups. ATP has two more phosphates than the nucleotide phosphate that builds RNA. It's that third phosphate linkage into which bond energy is loaded and from which energy is released.

Roll over the image to identify the various parts of the molecule.

ATP structure rollover



There are millions of different kinds of organisms on Earth, and they take in energy in the form of nutrients in diverse ways; some eat one another, others eat only plant material, plants derive nutrients from the Earth and air. But all organisms we know of take nutrients apart and store the energy they contain in ATP.

While primitive organisms use only the fermenting process called glycolysis to form ATP, most complex organisms use a process called oxidative phosphorylation of ADP, adenosine di-phosphate. In this rather complicated process, the bonds of glucose molecules are systematically picked apart, and the energy stored in their bonds is transferred to the phosphate bond as a phosphate group is transferred to ADP:

adp + phosphate to atp


ADP is a transient energy carrier

Millions of times per second, in each cell, ADP molecules are being loaded with energy by being converted to ATP, and ATPs are being recruited as energy donors when a cellular process requires that energy.

ATP-ADP cycle



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