An anaerobic organism or anaerobe is any organism that does not require oxygen. Obligate anaerobes will die when exposed to oxygen, while facultative anaerobes can use oxygen when present. Aerotolerant organisms do not require oxygen, but are not affected by exposure to air. Microaerophiles are organisms that may use oxygen, but only at low concentrations; their growth is inhibited by normal oxygen concentrations.
Obligate anaerobes may use fermentation or anaerobic respiration. In presence of oxygen, facultative anaerobes use the aerobic respiration; without oxygen some of them ferment, some use an anaerobic respiration. Aerotolerant organisms are strictly fermentative. Microaerophiles carry out an aerobic respiration, and some of then can also do an anaerobic respiration.
There are many chemical equations for anaerobic fermentative reactions.
Fermentative anaerobic organisms mostly use the lactic acid fermentation pathway:
- C6H1206 + 2 ADP + 2 phosphate → 2 lactic acid + 2 ATP
The energy released in this equation is approximately 150 kJ per mol, which is conserved in regenerating two ATP from ADP per glucose. This is only 5% of the energy per sugar molecule than the typical aerobic reaction generates.
Plants and fungi (e.g., yeasts) generally use alcohol (ethanol) fermentation when oxygen becomes limiting:
- C6H1206 + 2 ADP + 2 phosphate → 2 C2H5OH + 2 CO2 + 2 ATP
The energy released is about 180 kJ per mol, which is conserved in regenerating two ATP from ADP per glucose.
Anaerobic bacteria and archaea use these and many other fermentative pathways, e.g., propionic acid fermentation, butyric acid fermentation, solvent fermentation, mixed acid fermentation, butanediol fermentation, Stickland fermentation, acetogenesis or methanogenesis.
Some anaerobic bacteria produce toxins (e.g., tetanus or botulinum toxins) that are highly dangerous to higher organisms, including humans.
See also: Aerobic organism, Fermentation