Scientists Say: ATP

Adenosine triphosphate is the rechargeable battery that runs our cells


This is a molecule of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. The phosphate groups are dangling in a line on the left. Snapping off one of those groups produces a burst of energy.

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Adenosine triphosphate, ATP (noun, “Ah-DEN-oh-seen Try-FOS-fate”)

This molecule is the main source of energy for cells. It has two main parts. One is adenosine. (You may have heard of adenosine’s other job — as one of the components in DNA.) The other is a chain of three phosphate groups. Each phosphate is made of a phosphorus atom with four oxygen atoms. When a cell needs energy, it breaks one of the phosphate groups off the adenosine. That turns the ATP into adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Breaking the bond also releases energy the cell can use. Mitochondria — structures found inside the cell — turn ADP back into ATP. This recharges the tiny chemical batteries so they can be used again.

In a sentence

Some bodybuilders take the supplement creatine to make more ATP and increase their body building power — which can be dangerous for their liver and kidneys.  

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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