glycolysis (glĪkŏlˈĭsĭs) [key], term given to the metabolic pathway utilized by most microorganisms (yeast and bacteria) and by all "higher" animals (including humans) for the degradation of glucose. Glycolysis means, literally, the dissolution of sugar. The process is a series of consecutive chemical conversions that require the participation of eleven different enzymes, most of which have been crystallized and thoroughly studied. Glycolysis begins with a single molecule of glucose and concludes with the production of two molecules of pyruvic acid. The pathway is seen to be degradative, or catabolic, in that the six-carbon glucose is reduced to two molecules of the three-carbon pyruvic acid. Much of the energy that is liberated upon degradation of glucose is conserved by the simultaneous formation of the so-called high-energy molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Two reactions of the glycolytic sequence proceed with the concomitant production of ATP, thus ATP synthesis is said to be coupled to glycolysis. Hundreds of cellular reactions, particularly those involved in the synthesis of cellular components and those that allow the cell to perform mechanical work, require the participation of ATP as a source of chemical energy. While glycolysis is the primary fuel process for some organisms that do not require oxygen, such as yeast, aerobic organisms can only gain a small portion of their needed energy from this process. Glycolysis occurs in two major stages, the first of which is the conversion of the various sugars to a common intermediate, glucose-6-phosphate. The second major phase is the conversion of glucose-6-phosphate to pyruvate. The products of glycolysis are further metabolized to complete the breakdown of glucose. Their ultimate fate varies depending upon the organism. In certain microorganisms lactic acid is the final product produced from pyruvic acid, and the process is referred to as homolactic fermentation. In certain bacteria and in brewer's yeast, lactic acid is not produced in large quantities. Instead pyruvic acid, which is also the precursor of lactic acid, is converted to ethanol and carbon dioxide by an enzyme-catalyzed two-step process, termed alcoholic fermentation. In the tissues of many organisms, including mammals, glycolysis is a prelude to the complex metabolic machinery that ultimately converts pyruvic acid to carbon dioxide and water with the concomitant production of much ATP and the consumption of oxygen. See Krebs cycle; respiration.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.