Learning science: ATP hydrolysis

Learning science always comes back to learning basic concepts. ATP is a fundamental part of many critical processes of life. This week's video covers ATP hydrolysis, the process by which ATP becomes ADP. Many important chemical reactions are powered by this process, and I'll get into a few of them.

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Science learning always leads to discovery. As I was making this video, something came up that I hadn't thought about for many years. ATP is remarkably similar to the adenine nucleotide making RNA--in fact it is bonded in the same way to ribose and only has 2 extra phosphate groups to set it apart.

The lesson here? Life in all its diversity and complexity is really making rigorous use of a relatively small number of chemicals. The same molecules that store energy can store genetic information. We're all one big happy biochemical family.

Anyway, you can see the structure of ATP in the video. The important concept is the hydrolysis of ATP. Water (H2O) reacts with ATP, causing the molecule to shed a phosphate group and become ADP (Adenosine Di-Phosphate). This releases 7.3 kcal/mol of energy.

If you were just dissolving ATP in a test tube, this energy would simply warm up the surrounding water. But inside a cell, this energy powers many chemical reactions. Often times, the energy causes the loose phosphate group to bind with another molecule and cause additional chemical reactions as a result.

In many situations, the phosphate group will bind with a protein. This, in turn, causes the protein to change shape. Often the protein will carry out some specific task before snapping back into its original shape. For example, a protein might take a "step" for each phosphate group that binds with it. Another protein, embedded in a membrane of the cell or an organelle, might pump an ion across the membrane, against its chemical gradient. This will allow more work to be done when the ion moves back in across the membrane.

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4 Replies to “Learning science: ATP hydrolysis”

    • Thanks for posting, Martin! You’ve touched upon one of the miracles of life, in my opinion. The molecules of ATP have a lot in common with the base adenosine, which is found in DNA and RNA. They are not “different” but they have entirely different functions inside a cell. Life has a way of doing many things with only a few tools. This is a fact that comes up all the time in biology, and it always fascinates me.

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