Aerobic and anaerobic respiration

Aerobic respiration

Respiration using oxygen to break down food molecules is called aerobic respiration. Glucose is the molecule normally used for respiration – it is the main respiratory substrate. Glucose is oxidised to release its energy.

The word equation for aerobic respiration is:

glucose + oxygen → carbon dioxide + water + energy released

You need to be able to recognise the chemical symbols:

C6H12O6 + 6O2 → 6CO2 + 6H2O + energy released

Respiration is a series of reactions, but this summarises the overall process.

The first stages of respiration occur in the cytoplasm of cells, but most of the energy released is in the mitochondria.

Anaerobic respiration

Most organisms cannot respire without oxygen but some organisms and tissues can continue to respire if the oxygen runs out. These organisms and tissues use the process of anaerobic respiration.

Human muscle can respire anaerobically for short periods of time – even though the process is relatively inefficient, it's better to continue respiring and be able to run away from danger – or run a race.

The glucose in muscle is converted to lactic acid:

glucose → lactic acid + energy released

Some plants, and some fungi such as yeast can respire anaerobically – it's preferable to release less energy but remain alive.

Glucose in yeast cells is converted to carbon dioxide and ethanol, which we refer to simply as 'alcohol':

glucose → ethanol + carbon dioxide + energy released

Anaerobic respiration occurs only in the cytoplasm of cells.

Aerobic and anaerobic respiration compared:

Presence of oxygenPresent.Absent or in short supply.
Oxidation of glucoseCompleteIncomplete. The products of respiration still contain energy.
Products of respirationCarbon dioxide and water. The products do not contain stored chemical energy.Mammalian muscle: lactic acid. Yeast: ethanol and carbon dioxide. Some plants: ethanol and carbon dioxide. The products still contain stored chemical energy.
Amount of energy releasedRelatively large amount.Small amount, but quickly.