GCSE Biology: Respiration: Aerobic and Anaerobic

5th April 2017

New GCSE Biology Syllabus

Respiration - aerobic and anaerobic - the Key Facts


Respiration is a crucial process that takes place in mammals and birds. It is essentially, the production of energy which takes place in cells. It facilitates the creation of energy which allows us to maintain a constant body temperature - this is vital for survival. There are also a variety of other life processes which need the energy created by respiration to take place, such as:

  • Growth
  • Cell division

  • Muscle contraction

  • Active transport

  • Nerve impulses

  • Protein synthesis


Let’s identify some of the key characteristics of respiration:

  • It is continuous and uninterrupted
  • It is an exothermic reaction

  • Involves chemical reactions which break down molecules to release energy

  • Is summarised as - glucose + oxygen → carbon dioxide + water

  • The chemical equation is - C6H1206 + 602 → 6CO2 + 6H20

  • It is different from breathing which is called ventilation


Now aerobic respiration is an important process to remember. It needs oxygen to take place and releases energy by breaking down food substances. Most aerobic respiration takes place in cells called mitochondria which are found in the cytoplasm of cells.


Anaerobic respiration on the other hand does not require oxygen and releases small amounts of energy usually during very intense periods of exercise. This process involves the breakdown of glucose to produce lactic acid. This causes an oxygen debt which needs to later be repaid which is why we breath heavily after exercise - we are trying to get as much oxygen into our bodies as possible so that the lactic acid can be oxidised.


The differences between anaerobic and aerobic respiration are easily summarised:

Aerobic = needs oxygen, completely breaks down glucose, produces a large amount of energy and produces carbon dioxide and water as by products


Anaerobic = doesn’t need oxygen, is the incomplete breakdown of glucose, produces small amounts of energy and produces lactic acid in mammals.


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