Metabolism Is Regulated to Achieve Balance and Economy

Not only do living cells simultaneously synthesize thousands of different kinds of carbohydrate, fat, protein, and nucleic acid molecules and their simpler subunits, but they do so in the precise proportions required by the cell under any given circumstance. For example, during rapid cell growth the precursors of proteins and nucleic acids must be made in large quantities, whereas in nongrowing cells the requirement for these precursors is much reduced. Key enzymes in each metabolic pathway are regulated so that each type of precursor molecule is produced in a quantity appropriate to the current requirements of the cell.

Consider the pathway in E. coli that leads to the synthesis of the amino acid isoleucine, a constituent of proteins. The pathway has five steps catalyzed by five different enzymes (A through F represent the intermediates in the pathway):

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