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29 • Summary

29 • Summary

Metabolism is the sum of all chemical reactions in the body. Reactions that break down large molecules into smaller fragments are called catabolism, and those that build up large molecules from small pieces are called anabolism. Although the details of specific biochemical pathways are sometimes complex, all the reactions that occur follow the normal rules of organic chemical reactivity.

The catabolism of fats begins with digestion, in which ester bonds are hydrolyzed to give glycerol and fatty acids. The fatty acids are degraded in the four-step β-oxidation pathway by removal of two carbons at a time, yielding acetyl CoA. Catabolism of carbohydrates begins with the hydrolysis of glycoside bonds to give glucose, which is degraded in the ten-step glycolysis pathway. Pyruvate, the initial product of glycolysis, is then converted into acetyl CoA. Acetyl CoA next enters the eight-step citric acid cycle, where it is further degraded into CO2. The cycle is a closed loop of reactions in which the product of the final step (oxaloacetate) is a reactant in the first step.

Catabolism of proteins is more complex than that of fats or carbohydrates because each of the 20 different amino acids is degraded by its own unique pathway. In general, though, the amino nitrogen atoms are removed and the substances that remain are converted into compounds that enter the citric acid cycle. Most amino acids lose their nitrogen atom by transamination, a reaction in which the  –NH2 group of the amino acid trades places with the keto group of an α-keto acid such as α-ketoglutarate. The products are a new α-keto acid and glutamate.

The energy released in catabolic pathways is used in the electron-transport chain to make molecules of adenosine triphosphate, ATP. ATP, the final result of food catabolism, couples to and drives many otherwise unfavorable reactions.

Biomolecules are synthesized as well as degraded, but the pathways for anabolism and catabolism are not the exact reverse of one another. Fatty acids are biosynthesized from acetate by an 8-step pathway, and carbohydrates are made from pyruvate by the 11-step gluconeogenesis pathway.

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