Physical Foundations

Living cells and organisms must perform work to stay alive and to reproduce themselves. The synthetic reactions that occur within cells, like the synthetic processes in any factory, require the input of energy. Energy is also consumed in the motion of a bacterium or an Olympic sprinter, in the flashing of a firefly or the electrical discharge of an eel. And the storage and expression of information require energy, without which structures rich in information inevitably become disordered and meaningless.

In the course of evolution, cells have developed highly efficient mechanisms for coupling the energy obtained from sunlight or fuels to the many energy-consuming processes they must carry out. One goal of biochemistry is to understand, in quantitative and chemical terms, the means by which energy is extracted, channeled, and consumed in living cells. We can consider cellular energy conversions—like all other energy conversions—in the context of the laws of thermodynamics.

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