As the chief energy source of eukaryotic cells, it is important to determine the thermodynamic efficiency of ATP synthesis in oxidative phosphorylation (OX PHOS). Previous estimates of the thermodynamic efficiency of this vital process have ranged from Lehninger's original back-of-the-envelope calculation of 38% to the often quoted value of 55-60% in current textbooks of biochemistry, to high values of 90% from recent information theoretic considerations, and reports of realizations of close to ideal 100% efficiencies by single molecule experiments. Hence this problem has been reinvestigated from first principles. The overall thermodynamic efficiency of ATP synthesis in the mitochondrial energy transduction OX PHOS process has been found to lie between 40 and 41% from four different approaches based on a) estimation using structural and biochemical data, b) fundamental nonequilibrium thermodynamic analysis, c) novel insights arising from Nath's torsional mechanism of energy transduction and ATP synthesis, and d) the overall balance of cellular energetics. The torsional mechanism also offers an explanation for the observation of a thermodynamic efficiency approaching 100% in some experiments. Applications of the unique, molecular machine mode of functioning of F1FO-ATP synthase involving direct inter-conversion of chemical and mechanical energies in the design and fabrication of novel, man-made mechanochemical devices have been envisaged, and some new ways to exorcise Maxwell's demon have been proposed. It is hoped that analysis of the fundamental problem of energy transduction in OX PHOS from a fresh perspective will catalyze new avenues of research in this interdisciplinary field.
Keywords: ATP synthesis; Bioenergetics; Chloroplasts; Efficiency; Energy transduction; Maxwell's demon; Mechanoelectrochemical devices; Mitochondria; Oxidative phosphorylation; Photophosphorylation; Photosynthesis; Thermodynamics; Torsional mechanism.
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