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Mechanics of Breathing

The action of breathing in and out is due to changes of pressure within


the thorax, in comparison with the outside. This action is also known
as external respiration. When we inhale the intercostal muscles (between
the ribs) and diaphragm contract to expand the chest cavity. The
diaphragm flattens and moves downwards and the intercostal muscles
move the rib cage upwards and out.
This increase in size decreases the internal air pressure and so air from
the outside (at a now higher pressure that inside the thorax) rushes into
the lungs to equalise the pressures.

When we exhale the diaphragm and intercostal muscles relax and return
to their resting positions. This reduces the size of the thoracic cavity,
thereby increasing the pressure and forcing air out of the lungs.
Breathing Rate
The rate at which we inhale and exhale is controlled by the respiratory
centre, within the Medulla Oblongata in the brain. Inspiration occurs due
to increased firing of inspiratory nerves and so the increased recruitment
of motor units within the intercostals and diaphragm. Exhalation occurs
due to a sudden stop in impulses along the inspiratory nerves.
Our lungs are prevented from excess inspiration due to stretch receptors
within the bronchi and bronchioles which send impulses to the Medulla
Oblongata when stimulated.
Breathing rate is all controlled by chemoreceptors within the
main arteries which monitor the levels of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide
within the blood. If oxygen saturation falls, ventilation accelerates to
increase the volume of Oxygen inspired.
If levels of Carbon Dioxide increase a substance known as carbonic acid
is released into the blood which causes Hydrogen ions (H+) to be formed.
An increased concentration of H+ in the blood stimulates increased
ventilation rates. This also occurs when lactic acid is released into the
blood following high intensity exercise.
Respiration is a metabolic process common to all living things. Here, you will
learn the definition, location, processes, and formula for cellular respiration. At
the end, you can test your knowledge with a short quiz.

What is Respiration?
When you hear the word 'respire,' you probably think of breathing. When you
breathe, you are taking in oxygen with each inhale and releasing carbon dioxide
with each exhale. This gas exchange is important for respiration, but while
breathing is a physical process, respiration can be thought of as more of a
chemical process. All organisms, from a single bacterial cell to a coral reef
colony to a blue whale, undergo respiration.

Food molecules absorbed after digestion are taken in, broken down, and the
energy freed in the process is used to power the organism's movements and
physiological functioning. Respiration is the biochemical process in which the
cells of an organism obtain energy by combining oxygen and glucose, resulting in
the release of carbon dioxide, water, and ATP (the currency of energy in cells).

When we examine the equation for cellular respiration, we see that the reactants
are glucose and oxygen (for aerobic respiration), and the products are carbon
dioxide, water, and ATP. Note the number of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water
molecules involved in each 'turn' of the process.

Balance with Photosynthesis


A simple word equation that can be used to describe the process of photosynthesis is carbon
dioxide + water > glucose + oxygen + water. A balanced chemical equation for the process can be
written as 6CO2 + 6H2O > C6H12O6 + 6O2. Overall, photosynthesis uses light energy to
convert carbon dioxide into a carbohydrate.
Respiration is the antithesis to the process of photosynthesis, in which carbon
dioxide and water are taken in by autotrophs, along with sunlight, to make
glucose and oxygen. Autotrophs include any photosynthesizing organisms, such
as plants and algae, all of whom also undergo respiration. The products of
photosynthesis are taken in by heterotrophs, organisms who cannot make their
own energy and rely upon autotrophs for food. The byproducts of their respiration
- carbon dioxide and water - are then used for photosynthesis. In a balanced
ecosystem, this exchange is an example of a negative feedback loop.

The balance of photosynthesis (green) and


respiration (red)

Three Phases of Respiration


In prokaryotic cells, respiration takes place in the cytosol and across the cell
plasma membrane. In eukaryotic cells, it occurs in the cytosol and in the
mitochondria. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of eukaryotic cells, and contain
high surface areas of membrane folds on which respiration activity can be
maximized.

Respiration occurs in a similar way to the internal combustion of your car engine:
organic compounds and oxygen go in, carbon dioxide and water come out, and
the energy released in the process powers the car or cell. Respiration and
combustion are both exergonic processes, in which energy is released from the
breaking of molecular bonds. To crank out ATP from the breaking of glucose
bonds, respiration occurs in three phases:

Glycolysis: The original glucose molecule (from food) is broken down into
pyruvic acid, which is oxidized into CO2 and water, leaving a two-carbon
molecule called acetyl-CoA. Two ATP are generated in this process. This
occurs in the cytosol.
The Citric Acid Cycle: The acetyl-CoA from glycolysis is added to an
existing carbon chain and sequentially broken down, releasing more CO2
(byproduct) and releasing electrons, which are added to the acceptor
molecules. Two ATP are generated for each turn of this cycle. This occurs
in the mitochondrial matrix.

Oxidative Phosphorylation: The electron acceptor molecules drop off the


electrons, which work to pump H+ ions in high concentration on one side
of the plasma membrane, creating a gradient pressure that churns the ATP
synthase enzyme, generating about 32 ATP. The remaining electrons are
taken by oxygen, which then combines with free hydrogens to create
water. Think of the enzymes like a water mill, with water pressure moving
the mill, and kinetic energy generating electricity.

A mitochondrion and the stages of cell respiration

In a nutshell, breaking the glucose molecule and subsequent carbon chains


during the citric acid cycle releases free electrons to be used in firing up the
electron transport chain, thus powering the ATP synthase enzyme to crank out
ATP.