|MadSci Network: Biochemistry|
Hello, I am not entirely sure I understand your question (or at least the last staement about yeast and water is throwing me off). So, if I don't answer it well enough, please resubmit it or email me. Yes, the body can and does use fuel molecules other than glucose to burn in its cells. You mention a few common examples, including the ability of the body to burn fructose (which is done by phosphorylating it to convert it to fructose 6-phosphate and feeding into the glycolysis pathway) and to burn fats (which are picked up by most cells after the liver has converted it into a form that the cells can convert into Acetyl-CoA and feed into the citric acid cycle). By analogy, it might be useful to think of glucose as money. Sure, if you are a doctor and I am a farmer, and go to see you when I am sick, it might be just find in some cases if I pay you with three chickens; but, overall, the system is more versatile and easier to manage if most of the time you are paid in money rather than chickens. This is not to say that the chickens have no value; but, they are harder for you the doctor to get at that value, especially if the doctor has no chicken coop and is not going to kill them and eat them right away. Sure, a cell might be able to get its fuel from pyruvate in principle; but, using many different sources like that has its logistical problems. Let me explain: There are two main issues operating here and it is helpful to understand them: 1) cells use their cell membranes to control what can come into and leave a cell. Many substances such as pyruvate do not enter and leave the cell easily. Also, pyruvate (unlike glucose) is not a major part of the fuel in our diets and it would require more conplicated conversions of our foods to make pyruvate a central part of our fuel distribution system (the bloodstream). Glucose is able to enter the cell because of specific proteins in their cell membranes that permit glucose to enter the cell. More important is issue 2: the body finely controls many aspects of respiration and it is easier to do so if there is one main form of fuel. Each fuel has technical difficulties when the body transports them in quantity. If the sugar concentration in the blood gets too high, the blood will become more viscous. This will make it harder to pump, making the circulation to extremities very poor and may even make the person prone to blood clots and the like. This can be very dangerous, so the body secretes insulin when the sugar concentration in the blood gets high, and this induces some tissues (primarily muscles and the liver) to take glucose from the blood and store it for future use. When this system breaks down (i.e. diabetes), many problems ensue. Loss of sensation in hands and feet doe to the poor circulation is common and can be a serious problem. Sometimes untreated diabetics can burn their hands without any sensation, and the recoil reflexes thus do not work. (If you touch a hot stove by accident, you will jerk your hand away quickly and thus limit the burn damage.) In wintertime, sometimes the circulation is so poor that tissue dies and becomes infected. It is not terribly uncommon for poorly treated diabetics to need toes amputated for this reason. So, just by this one example, you can understand that managing the fuel levels in the blood is very important. Pyruvate, if it were used would come with its own set of problems including the danger of changing the pH of the blood if large quantities are put into circulation to fuel (for example) someoen running a long distance. The body has chosen glucose as the main currency of its fuel and thus has developed systems such as insulin and insulin responsiveness to manage fuel supplies properly. Also, the storage of glucose in the muscles and liver as glycogen is also part of this management scheme. Perhaps the body might have chosen something other than glucose and given the right management scheme, metabolism would work just as well as it does now with glucose. But, that's not the way it worked out. In fact, the reason it worked out to be glucose is probably because we inherited our respiration pathways from yeast and bacteria. And many of these yeast and bacteria needed to ba able to grow whether or not oxygen was present. You can get energy out of glucose without oxygen by going through the glycolysis pathway; but, you can't do that for pyruvate. (There are bacteria (and perhaps also yeast, I don't know) that use alternative sources of energy, including the oxidation of sulfur from naturally occurring iron sulfides; but, I doubt we could use these pathways ourselves.) I hope this helps. Jeff Dorfman National Institutes of Health firstname.lastname@example.org
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