The Oxidation of Glucose¶
With glucose being one of the most common sugars in the biosphere (and certainly the most common in labs), the oxidation of glucose is a major source of chemical energy for many organisms. This process - the conservation of energy through complete oxidation of glucose using oxygen - is called “respiration.” Much of the energy produced during glucose oxidation is stored as ATP. If we take a look at the full oxidation of glucose to carbon dioxide and water
we find that ΔrG’m ≈ -2910 kJ / mol. According to our calculation from above, that’s enough energy to make ~65 ATP (in theory). But most organisms generate 30 ATP or less through the oxidization of glucose (Nelson et al., 2008; Flamholz et al., 2014). 1
Biochemistry textbooks often write this pathway as generating 36 ATP
giving a ΔrG’m of around -1350 kJ / mol. 2 In other words, there’s more free energy! Cells could, in principle, make a lot more ATP than they do in practice. Which begs the question: why not make more ATP? If you’re interested in learning more, consider looking up “chemical motive force” for reversible reactions.