In thermodynamics, a change in the thermodynamic state of a system and all of its surroundings cannot be precisely restored to its initial state by infinitesimal changes in some property of the system without expenditure of energy. A system that undergoes an irreversible process may still be capable of returning to its initial state; however, the impossibility occurs in restoring the environment to its own initial conditions. An irreversible process increases the entropy of the universe. However, because entropy is a state function, the change in entropy of a system is the same whether the process is reversible or irreversible. The second law of thermodynamics can be used to determine whether a process is reversible or not.
All complex natural processes are irreversible. The phenomenon of irreversibility results from the fact that if a thermodynamic system, which is any system of sufficient complexity, of interacting molecules is brought from one thermodynamic state to another, the configuration or arrangement of the atoms and molecules in the system will change in a way that is not easily predictable. A certain amount of "transformation energy" will be used as the molecules of the "working body" do work on each other when they change from one state to another. During this transformation, there will be a certain amount of heat energy loss or dissipation due to intermolecular friction and collisions; energy that will not be recoverable if the process is reversed.
Many biological processes that were once thought to be reversible have been found to actually be a pairing of two irreversible processes. Whereas a single enzyme was once believed to catalyze both the forward and reverse chemical changes, research has found that two separate enzymes of similar structure are typically needed to perform what results in a pair of thermodynamically irreversible processes.