4.3 Powering the Cell: Cellular Respiration

Lesson Objectives

  • Name the three stages of cellular respiration.
  • Give an overview of glycolysis.
  • Describe the mitochondrion and its role in aerobic respiration.
  • List the steps of the Krebs cycle and identify its products.
  • Explain how electron transport results in many molecules of ATP.
  • State the possible number of ATP molecules that can result from aerobic respiration.


Chapter 4.3 workbook pages

Get the workbook here: https://guesthollow.com/store/free-high-school-biology-workbook/


  • aerobic respiration
    • type of cellular respiration that requires oxygen
  • anaerobic respiration
    • type of cellular respiration that does not require oxygen
  • glycolysis
    • first stage of cellular respiration in which glucose is split, in the absence of oxygen, to form two molecules of pyruvate (pyruvic acid) and two (net) molecules of ATP
  • Krebs cycle
    • second stage of aerobic respiration in which two pyruvate (pyruvic acid) molecules from the first stage react to form ATP, NADH, and FADH2


You have just read how photosynthesis stores energy in glucose. How do living things make use of this stored energy? The answer is cellular respiration. This process releases the energy in glucose to make ATP, the molecule that powers all the work of cells.

Are you ready for another tough chapter?? Here we go!! 🙂

Amoeba Sisters: Cellular Respiration and the Mighty Mitochondria

This printable is not a requirement, but if you want some extra practice to understand the above video’s content, it will help:

Amoeba Sisters Video Recap: Cellular Respiration

Stages of Cellular Respiration


Cellular respiration involves many chemical reactions. As you saw earlier, the reactions can be summed up in this equation:

C6H12O6 + 6O2 → 6CO2 + 6H2O + Chemical Energy (in ATP)

The reactions of cellular respiration can be grouped into three stages: glycolysis, the Krebs cycle (also called the citric acid cycle), and electron transport. Figure below gives an overview of these three stages, which are also described below.


Cellular respiration takes place in the stages shown here. The process begins with a molecule of glucose, which has six carbon atoms. What happens to each of these atoms of carbon? Hey, if I heard you say, “Who cares….”, lol….well just hang in there and keep reading! icon_wink

Cellular Respiration Stage I: Glycolysis

The first stage of cellular respiration is glycolysis. It takes place in the cytosol of the cytoplasm.


Splitting Glucose

The word glycolysis means “glucose splitting,” which is exactly what happens in this stage. Enzymes split a molecule of glucose into two molecules of pyruvate (also known as pyruvic acid). This occurs in several steps. P.S. You do NOT have to memorize this (at this point in your life). You may need to in college. 😉 Just get a little familiar with it for now.

In glycolysis, glucose (C6) is split into two 3-carbon (C3) pyruvate molecules. This releases energy, which is transferred to ATP. How many ATP molecules are made during this stage of cellular respiration?

Blah blah blah….oops…sorry, that wasn’t meant to be a public statement. 😉

Results of Glycolysis

Energy is needed at the start of glycolysis to split the glucose molecule into two pyruvate molecules. These two molecules go on to stage II of cellular respiration. The energy to split glucose is provided by two molecules of ATP. As glycolysis proceeds, energy is released, and the energy is used to make four molecules of ATP. As a result, there is a net gain of two ATP molecules during glycolysis. During this stage, high-energy electrons are also transferred to molecules of NAD+ to produce two molecules of NADH, another energy-carrying molecule. NADH is used in stage III of cellular respiration to make more ATP.

A summary of glycolysis can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FE2jfTXAJHg.  This video is OPTIONAL. You may thank me now. 😉

Anaerobic and Aerobic Respiration


Cellular respiration that proceeds without oxygen is called anaerobic respiration.  Cellular respiration that proceeds in the presence of oxygen is called aerobic respiration.

Watching that video just gave me a cramp…in my brain. *cough*

Structure of the Mitochondrion: Key to Aerobic Respiration

Before you read about the last two stages of aerobic respiration, you need to know more about the mitochondrion, where these two stages take place. A diagram of a mitochondrion is shown in Figure below.

The structure of a mitochondrion is defined by an inner and outer membrane. This structure plays an important role in aerobic respiration.

As you can see from Figure above, a mitochondrion has an inner and outer membrane. The space between the inner and outer membrane is called the intermembrane space. The space enclosed by the inner membrane is called the matrix. The second stage of cellular respiration, the Krebs cycle, takes place in the matrix. The third stage, electron transport, takes place on the inner membrane.

Cellular Respiration Stage II: The Krebs Cycle

Recall that glycolysis produces two molecules of pyruvate (pyruvic acid). These molecules enter the matrix of a mitochondrion, where they start the Krebs cycle. The reactions that occur next are shown in Figure below.

You can watch an animated version at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-k0biO1DT8.

Mr. W’s Krebs Cycle Song:

Wooooooooooo Krebs!!! Krebs!! Krebs!!! *ahem*…sorry – back to reading calmly now. I just had to wake myself up for a minute.

The Krebs cycle starts with pyruvic acid from glycolysis. Each small circle in the diagram represents one carbon atom. For example, citric acid is a six carbon molecule, and OAA (oxaloacetate) is a four carbon molecule. Follow what happens to the carbon atoms as the cycle proceeds. In one turn through the cycle, how many molecules are produced of ATP? How many molecules of NADH and FADH2 are produced?

Before the Krebs cycle begins, pyruvic acid, which has three carbon atoms, is split apart and combined with an enzyme known as CoA, which stands for coenzyme A. The product of this reaction is a two-carbon molecule called acetyl-CoA. The third carbon from pyruvic acid combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide, which is released as a waste product. High-energy electrons are also released and captured in NADH.

Steps of the Krebs Cycle

The Krebs cycle itself actually begins when acetyl-CoA combines with a four-carbon molecule called OAA (oxaloacetate) (see Figure above). This produces citric acid, which has six carbon atoms. This is why the Krebs cycle is also called the citric acid cycle. After citric acid forms, it goes through a series of reactions that release energy. The energy is captured in molecules of NADH, ATP, and FADH2, another energy-carrying compound. Carbon dioxide is also released as a waste product of these reactions. The final step of the Krebs cycle regenerates OAA, the molecule that began the Krebs cycle. This molecule is needed for the next turn through the cycle. Two turns are needed because glycolysis produces two pyruvic acid molecules when it splits glucose. Watch the OSU band present the Krebs cycle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgXnH087JIk.

Results of the Krebs Cycle

After the second turn through the Krebs cycle, the original glucose molecule has been broken down completely. All six of its carbon atoms have combined with oxygen to form carbon dioxide. The energy from its chemical bonds has been stored in a total of 16 energy-carrier molecules. These molecules are:

  • 4 ATP (including 2 from glycolysis)
  • 10 NADH (including 2 from glycolysis)
  • 2 FADH2

The Krebs cycle is reviewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juM2ROSLWfw.  This video is OPTIONAL.

Cellular Respiration Stage III: Electron Transport

Electron transport is the final stage of aerobic respiration. In this stage, energy from NADH and FADH2, which result from the Krebs cycle, is transferred to ATP. Can you predict how this happens? (Hint: How does electron transport occur in photosynthesis?)

See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1engJR_XWVU for an overview of the electron transport chain.

Transporting Electrons

High-energy electrons are released from NADH and FADH2, and they move along electron transport chains, like those used in photosynthesis. The electron transport chains are on the inner membrane of the mitochondrion. As the high-energy electrons are transported along the chains, some of their energy is captured. This energy is used to pump hydrogen ions (from NADH and FADH2) across the inner membrane, from the matrix into the intermembrane space. Electron transport in a mitochondrion is shown in Figure below.

Electron-transport chains on the inner membrane of the mitochondrion carry out the last stage of cellular respiration.

Making ATP

The pumping of hydrogen ions across the inner membrane creates a greater concentration of the ions in the intermembrane space than in the matrix. This chemiosmotic gradient causes the ions to flow back across the membrane into the matrix, where their concentration is lower. ATP synthase acts as a channel protein, helping the hydrogen ions cross the membrane. It also acts as an enzyme, forming ATP from ADP and inorganic phosphate. After passing through the electron-transport chain, the “spent” electrons combine with oxygen to form water. This is why oxygen is needed; in the absence of oxygen, this process cannot occur. You can see how all these events occur at the following link: http://www.sp.uconn.edu/~terry/images/anim/ATPmito.html.

A summary of this process can be seen at the following sites: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfgCcFXUZRk (17:16) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_Q17tqw_7A (4:59).  These videos are OPTIONAL.

 Here’s another video – a bit more fun than the videos above. Sorry, you don’t get to skip it. This guy worked really hard to make it. Give him a thumbs up! 😉

How Much ATP?

You have seen how the three stages of aerobic respiration use the energy in glucose to make ATP. How much ATP is produced in all three stages? Glycolysis produces 2 ATP molecules, and the Krebs cycle produces 2 more. Electron transport begins with several molecules of NADH and FADH2 from the Krebs cycle and transfers their energy into as many as 34 more ATP molecules. All told, then, up to 38 molecules of ATP can be produced from just one molecule of glucose in the process of aerobic respiration.

Now, if you understood all of the above and can recite it all to me, you are smarter than I am. Wooo! I’ll just jump my little ol’ self to an easy animal chapter or something. 😉

Lesson Summary

  • Cellular respiration uses energy in glucose to make ATP. Aerobic (“oxygen-using”) respiration occurs in three stages: glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, and electron transport.
  • In glycolysis, glucose is split into two molecules of pyruvate. This results in a net gain of two ATP molecules.
  • The Krebs cycle and electron transport occur in the mitochondria. The Krebs cycle takes place in the matrix, and electron transport takes place on the inner membrane.
  • During the Krebs cycle, pyruvate undergoes a series of reactions to produce two more molecules of ATP and also several molecules of NADH and FADH2.
  • During electron transport, energy from NADH and FADH2 is used to make many more molecules of ATP.
  • In all three stages of aerobic respiration, up to 38 molecules of ATP may be produced from a single molecule of glucose.

Lesson Review Questions


1. List the stages of aerobic respiration in the order in which they occur.

2. Describe what happens during glycolysis. How many ATP molecules are gained during this stage?

3. Define aerobic and anaerobic respiration.

4. What role do mitochondria play in cellular respiration?

5. What are the products of the Krebs cycle?

6. What is the maximum number of ATP molecules that can be produced during the electron transport stage of aerobic respiration?

Apply Concepts

7. When you exhale onto a cold window pane, water vapor in your breath condenses on the glass. Where does the water vapor come from?

8. Assume that a new species of organism has been discovered. Scientists have observed its cells under a microscope and determined that they lack mitochondria. What type of cellular respiration would you predict that the new species uses? Explain your prediction.

Think Critically

9. Explain why two turns of the Krebs cycle are needed for each molecule of glucose.

Points to Consider

The last two stages of aerobic respiration require oxygen. However, not all organisms live in places where there is a plentiful supply of oxygen.

  • How do you think organisms get energy from glucose to make ATP if they cannot use oxygen?
  • Do they just use glycolysis, which produces only two ATP molecules? Or do you think there might be other steps involved?

Previous: Photosynthesis: Sugar as Food

Next: Anaerobic Respiration

3 thoughts on “4.3 Powering the Cell: Cellular Respiration

  1. Hello, did someone forget to edit this? “Explain why glycolysis probably evolved before the other stages of aerobic respiration.”

    1. Thanks for catching that! It’s now corrected. 🙂 Let me know if you run into anything else!

      1. Fast work! Happy to help your good work.

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