How to Make ATP
Three Classic Experiments in Biology
Department of Biological Science
This case study for the flipped classroom introduces the discovery process used to elucidate how cells make ATP. Data from three seminal primary literature papers and novel (for their time) methods are used to illustrate how scientists determined the mechanism of ATP synthesis via chemiosmosis across a membrane. The story begins with the classic reductionist approach used by many brilliant scientists to figure out familiar pathways such as glycolysis and the Krebs cycle. This method worked so well that there was little reason to think that the elusive intermediates in the ATP pathway wouldn't also be similarly revealed. Mitchell (1961) hinted that this classic approach might not work for ATP synthesis; Jagendorf and Uribe (1966) showed that pH changes (a proton motive force) across a membrane can generate ATP, describing the process of chemiosmosis; Racker and Stoeckenius (1974) described the individual components necessary for ATP synthesis in an artificial system. By taking an historical approach, students learn a basic biochemical concept while also learning that discoveries sometimes take time to be accepted by other scientists.
- Analyze primary sources of biological information.
- Read and interpret basic graphs.
- Connect primary literature to basic biology processes.
- Connect the history of biological discovery to current understanding of basic biology processes.
- Understand the roles of electron transport chains and chemiosmosis in respiration and photosynthesis.
Keywordschemiosmosis; photosynthesis; ATP synthesis; proton motive force; respiration; membrane;
Topical AreasHistory of science
Educational LevelMiddle school
Type / MethodsN/A, Clicker, Flipped, Interrupted, Journal Article
Subject HeadingsBiology (General) | Cell Biology | Physiology | Microbiology | Biochemistry | Botany / Plant Science | Molecular Biology | Science (General) |
The PowerPoint presentation below can be used to facilitate discussion.
atp_synthesis_flip_pptx (~4.8 MB)
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The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.
- ATP and Energy within Cells
This short video reintroduces students to the role of ATP as the “currency” of energy within the cell and asks why cells produce lots of ATP in the presence (but little in the absence) of oxygen. Running time: 1:50 min. Produced by Monica L. Tischler, 2017, for NCCSTS.
- An Introduction to Enzyme Assays
This brief video introduces the concept behind enzyme assays and how they were used historically, and introduces three questions needed to accept Mitchell’s theory of ATP synthesis. Running time: 1:59 min. Produced by Monica L. Tischler, 2017, for NCCSTS.
- What Are Electron Transport Chains?
This video is a synopsis of Paper #1, Mitchell (1961). Running time: 4:28 min. Produced by Monica L. Tischler, 2017, for NCCSTS.
- What Do Electron Transport Chains Do?
This video is a synopsis of Paper #2, Jagendorf and Uribe (1966). Running time: 1:44 min. Produced by Monica L. Tischler, 2017, for NCCSTS.
- How Do Electron Transport Chains Do What They Do?
This video is a synopsis of Paper #3, Racker and Stoeckenius (1974). Running time: 3:46 min. Produced by Monica L. Tischler, 2017, for NCCSTS.