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Physical And Chemical Properties of Adenosine Triphosphate

ATP consists of adenosine — composed of an adenine ring and a ribose sugar — and three phosphate groups (triphosphate). The phosphoryl groups, starting with the group closest to the ribose, are referred to as the alpha (α), beta (β), and gamma (γ) phosphates. Consequently, it is closely related to the adenosine nucleotide, a monomer of RNA. ATP is highly soluble in water and is quite stable in solutions between pH 6.8 and 7.4, but is rapidly hydrolysed at extreme pH. Consequently, ATP is best stored as an anhydrous salt.

ATP is an unstable molecule in unbuffered water, in which it hydrolyses to ADP and phosphate. This is because the strength of the bonds between the phosphate groups in ATP is less than the strength of the hydrogen bonds (hydration bonds), between its products (ADP + phosphate), and water. Thus, if ATP and ADP are in chemical equilibrium in water, almost all of the ATP will eventually be converted to ADP. A system that is far from equilibrium contains Gibbs free energy, and is capable of doing work. Living cells maintain the ratio of ATP to ADP at a point ten orders of magnitude from equilibrium, with ATP concentrations fivefold higher than the concentration of ADP. This displacement from equilibrium means that the hydrolysis of ATP in the cell releases a large amount of free energy.

Any unstable system of potentially reactive molecules could potentially serve as a way of storing free energy, if the cell maintained their concentration far from the equilibrium point of the reaction. However, as is the case with most polymeric biomolecules, the breakdown of RNA, DNA, and ATP into simpler monomers is driven by both energy-release and entropy-increase considerations, in both standard concentrations, and also those concentrations encountered within the cell.

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