Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Mitochondrial Health

1. How ATP is Made in the Mitochondrion – Overview

These nested trays from the SUN Project allow one to show how ATP is made in the mitochondrion as the result of three interacting systems:
1) The movement of electrons that causes…
2) The pumping of protons that ultimately causes…
3) The production of ATP.

For more information and to access the SUN Mitochondrial E-book, go to Or contact SUN Director Ann Batiza, Ph.D. at [email protected] at Milwaukee School of Engineering.


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One thought on “1. How ATP is Made in the Mitochondrion – Overview
  1. Hi. This is Ann Batiza from the SUN Project. Students often wonder WHY electrons move from food to oxygen. You can think of this as a series of "tug of wars." There is a series of carriers within each of the orange pumps that quite literally strips an electron from an adjacent carrier. Therefore this tendency to attract electrons (a Coulombic force!) by these strategically placed carriers (in a series of tug of wars) is what causes electron movement. In many living things like us, oxygen is the ultimate electron acceptor – the carrier that holds most tightly to electrons in this path. (Some microbes have other ultimate acceptors and can live deep in the soil where there is no oxygen!) It's great that our food we eat loses at this game!

    As those electrons move across each pump, these negatively charged electrons attract positively charged protons enough to cause a net movement of protons from one end of the pump to the other (another Coulombic force!). Then when those concentrated protons randomly enter the ATP synthase, they cause its rotor and central shaft to turn which ultimately allows ATP + H2O to be recycled from ADP + Pi. (Video #3 shows the SUN mechanical ATP synthase).

    Note that all the interactions described here are RANDOM interactions, based on the random collisions and stickiness (binding constants) of the different players. Also note that while energy is released as electrons move, only SOME of that energy can be stored in the chemical bonds of ATP. While energy is conserved as electrons move from food to oxygen, some of that energy must be dissipated (lucky for us this is as heat!), and therefore only some of that energy is stored in a form we can use – ATP.

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