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What is an Anaerobic System?

An anaerobic system operates without oxygen, breaking down organic matter and producing biogas, a renewable energy source. This process, essential in wastewater treatment and waste management, harnesses natural bacteria to recycle waste into valuable resources. Intrigued by how this system can benefit both the environment and energy sectors? Let's examine its impact and potential together.
Victoria Blackburn
Victoria Blackburn

Most organisms, including humans, require oxygen to function normally and survive. There are a few organisms that do not require oxygen and actually find it to be toxic. There is also a group of organisms that can function both in the presence and absence of oxygen. A system that requires oxygen is called an aerobic system and one that doesn’t require oxygen is called an anaerobic system.

Most of the activities of the cells of the human body need oxygen to be able to carry out their day-to-day functions. There are some tissues that are able to work briefly without oxygen though. One example is muscle cells. Muscles can work for a limited amount of time using an anaerobic system before oxygen is required. Even for a brief period of time of working anaerobically, there are quite serious repercussions that must be corrected.

Sprinting is an anaerobic exercise.
Sprinting is an anaerobic exercise.

For long periods of continuous activity, such as distance running, muscles will use an aerobic system and burn oxygen to provide the required energy to maintain the activity. For short bursts of vigorous activity, such as sprinting, the muscles can break down glucose molecules in the absence of oxygen. An anaerobic system is often used for a short period of time when the blood cannot carry oxygen quickly enough to the working muscle cells. Unfortunately, this system cannot be used indefinitely for a number of reasons.

Weightlifting can increase anaerobic power.
Weightlifting can increase anaerobic power.

Energy is stored in cells in a chemical called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. Usually, enough ATP is stored within muscle cells to allow for about 20 – 30 seconds of activity before more has to be produced. ATP is produced during respiration by the breakdown of glucose molecules within the cells. Depending on whether oxygen is available, aerobic or anaerobic respiration will produce the ATP. The aerobic system is much more efficient and produces far more ATP, but the anaerobic system is what is used for the first minutes of exercise.

If the anaerobic system continues for a long length of time, lactic acid will buildup causing muscle fatigue and cramps.
If the anaerobic system continues for a long length of time, lactic acid will buildup causing muscle fatigue and cramps.

Another product of respiration is carbon dioxide. As the amount of carbon dioxide increases in the bloodstream, it stimulates the heart to pump faster. This in turn causes more oxygenated blood to be carried around the body, including to the muscle cells that require it to continue respiration and producing further ATP. If oxygen levels drop in the cells, the anaerobic system for respiration will begin again.

Energy is stored in the chemical ATP.
Energy is stored in the chemical ATP.

Lactic acid is a toxic product of the anaerobic respiration in humans. If the anaerobic system continues for any length of time, it will begin to build up in the tissues. The buildup of lactic acid causes muscles to become fatigued and can cause painful side effects like a muscle cramp. This oxygen debt must be repaid as soon as possible, once the activity has stopped. Rapid and deep breathing helps get as much oxygen into the body as possible, which is used by the cells to break the lactic acid down into carbon dioxide and water.

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Discussion Comments

BigBloom

"Aerobic" comes from "aero-" which is Greek for "air," and "bios," which is Greek for "life." "Anaerobic" would be life which does not require air, then.

Armas1313

The way I understand it, the muscle fibers are ripped every time they are worked out, and new stronger fibers are formed to replace them. This is done without oxygen, but needs oxygen eventually to supplement the process.

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    • Sprinting is an anaerobic exercise.
      By: berc
      Sprinting is an anaerobic exercise.
    • Weightlifting can increase anaerobic power.
      By: ArenaCreative
      Weightlifting can increase anaerobic power.
    • If the anaerobic system continues for a long length of time, lactic acid will buildup causing muscle fatigue and cramps.
      By: Maridav
      If the anaerobic system continues for a long length of time, lactic acid will buildup causing muscle fatigue and cramps.
    • Energy is stored in the chemical ATP.
      By: logos2012
      Energy is stored in the chemical ATP.
    • Resting allows the body to replenish its oxygen supply and overcome oxygen debt.
      By: Maridav
      Resting allows the body to replenish its oxygen supply and overcome oxygen debt.