The Dark Side of Glycolysis…


Glycolysis is a biochemical pathway used to obtain energy from carbohydrates. A very interesting fact about glycolysis is that it can occur in almost any living organism, usually under anaerobic conditions, and in mammals such as ourselves, glycolysis is occurring in every part of our bodies at any given moment.

However, like most things in this cruel, cold world… there’s a dark side to glycolysis…

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Circa 1924, Nobel laureate Otto Heinrich Warburg, discovered (by accident),  that most cells that became cancerous had an extremely high rate of glycolysis occurring up to 200 times the rate of a normal cells. This led to a hypothesis at the time that cancer was fundamentally caused by this factor of “runaway glycolysis”. A hallmark of the Warburg hypothesis is that is allows glycolysis to occur in the presence of oxygen which causes fermentation instead of oxidation.
This phenomenon deals with how glycolysis is used for energy production in tumor cells unlike other cells which use mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (Christ 2009).

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There has been a lot of research put into investigating this  and luckily enough, the world was rewarded with the cancer detection method known as the positron emission tomography (PET) scan which is used worldwide for detecting cancer cells in patients.

It has been suggested that the products of this fermentation interferes with apoptosis (the process by which body kills damaged cells) allowing the increase of the rate of glycolysis in these damaged cells. This mechanism of fermentation instead of oxidation of the sugars can lead to cancers in the liver, testicles and other parts of the human body.

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The occurrence of this particular form of fermentation in the brain’s frontal, temporal and parietal lobes has been determined as one of the main causes for Alzheimer’s, it affects the nervous tissue in the brain resulting in memory loss. (, 2012).


Christ, Ethan J. “Columbia University Academic Commons.” 2009. (accessed March 8, 2014). “Graphics Gallery: An Antibody Molecule.” 2014. (accessed 8 Mar 2014). (accessed March 8, 2014). Pratt, Charlotte W. Essential Biochemistry. December 20, 2012.

Schwartz, L. Cancer. Berlin: Springer, 2004

Stoker, H. Stephen. General, Organic and Biological Chemistry. Belmont: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning, 2010.


Contributors: Christine, Le Frenchie, Roi (Editor)


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