<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the passage of air from the outside environment to the lungs
  • Explain how the lungs are protected from particulate matter

The primary function of the respiratory system is to deliver oxygen to the cells of the body’s tissues and remove carbon dioxide, a cell waste product. The main structures of the human respiratory system are the nasal cavity, the trachea, and lungs.

All aerobic organisms require oxygen to carry out their metabolic functions. Along the evolutionary tree, different organisms have devised different means of obtaining oxygen from the surrounding atmosphere. The environment in which the animal lives greatly determines how an animal respires. The complexity of the respiratory system is correlated with the size of the organism. As animal size increases, diffusion distances increase and the ratio of surface area to volume drops. In unicellular organisms, diffusion across the cell membrane is sufficient for supplying oxygen to the cell ( [link] ). Diffusion is a slow, passive transport process. In order for diffusion to be a feasible means of providing oxygen to the cell, the rate of oxygen uptake must match the rate of diffusion across the membrane. In other words, if the cell were very large or thick, diffusion would not be able to provide oxygen quickly enough to the inside of the cell. Therefore, dependence on diffusion as a means of obtaining oxygen and removing carbon dioxide remains feasible only for small organisms or those with highly-flattened bodies, such as many flatworms (Platyhelminthes). Larger organisms had to evolve specialized respiratory tissues, such as gills, lungs, and respiratory passages accompanied by complex circulatory systems, to transport oxygen throughout their entire body.

The photo shows a round, green cell with a smooth, shiny surface. The cell resembles a balloon.
The cell of the unicellular algae Ventricaria ventricosa is one of the largest known, reaching one to five centimeters in diameter. Like all single-celled organisms, V. ventricosa exchanges gases across the cell membrane.

Direct diffusion

For small multicellular organisms, diffusion across the outer membrane is sufficient to meet their oxygen needs. Gas exchange by direct diffusion across surface membranes is efficient for organisms less than 1 mm in diameter. In simple organisms, such as cnidarians and flatworms, every cell in the body is close to the external environment. Their cells are kept moist and gases diffuse quickly via direct diffusion. Flatworms are small, literally flat worms, which ‘breathe’ through diffusion across the outer membrane ( [link] ). The flat shape of these organisms increases the surface area for diffusion, ensuring that each cell within the body is close to the outer membrane surface and has access to oxygen. If the flatworm had a cylindrical body, then the cells in the center would not be able to get oxygen.

The photo shows a worm with a flat, ribbon-like body, resting on sand. The worm is black with white spots.
This flatworm’s process of respiration works by diffusion across the outer membrane. (credit: Stephen Childs)

Skin and gills

Earthworms and amphibians use their skin (integument) as a respiratory organ. A dense network of capillaries lies just below the skin and facilitates gas exchange between the external environment and the circulatory system. The respiratory surface must be kept moist in order for the gases to dissolve and diffuse across cell membranes.

Questions & Answers

can i get a broader difference between inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning
Daniel Reply
what are the types of tissues and there functions
Daniel
what is signal cascade?
nur Reply
it is the process by which plants produce their fo
Getabalew Reply
what are the substrates of this process
Fiko
definition of photosynthesis
Fiko Reply
it is simply the process by which plants get there food from the sun through the use of chlorophyll
Daniel
what are the advantages and disadvantages of external and internal fertilization
Mohd Reply
which type of blood group can be tranfer easily after Accidents
Durgesh Reply
O positive cause it is a general donor
Daniel
It can give to other blood group except O negative that can only get from O negative
Daniel
which is the polygonum type of embryo sac in angiosperms
Madhura Reply
Describe how hormones regulate blood pressure, blood volume, and kidney function
junius Reply
2 Positive water potential is placed on the left side of the tube by increasing Ψp such that the water level rises on the right side. Could you equalize the water level on each side of the tube by adding solute, and if so, how?
Sarah Reply
where are the enzymes required for electron transport system located
Madhura
plant and animal cell
Oyedeji Reply
what plant and animal cell
PAvan
plant cell has a definite shape whilst the animal cell has indefinite shape
Owusu
e carriers are present in criste of mitochondria which boosts the process
Maaz
what does cell mean?
Asali
what are the type of cell
abiola Reply
Poukaryotic cell and euakaryotic cell
Smile's
prokaryotes don't have well delet nucleus while Euler have well developed nucleus
Durgesh
Which of the following is considered a keystone species? Deer, Beaver, Elk or Wolves
Nicole Reply
Origin and Diversity of higher plants
Gideon Reply
explain the reason why the impudent and excessive use of antibiotics could be potentially harmful to the user.
Alfred Reply
diseases gain antibiotic resistance from the antibiotic if often used.
Jerome
what is mean by serum
vasant Reply

Get the best Biology course in your pocket!





Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Biology' conversation and receive update notifications?

Ask