Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

Sponsored by the American Physiological Society

How ground squirrels recycle nitrogen

Thirteen-lined_ground_squirrel

Photo of a 13-lined ground squirrel by Mnmazur via Wikimedia Commons

Hibernation is a rather remarkable strategy some animals use to survive winter when food availability is limited. Dr. Matthew Regan, a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Hannah Carey at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, presented research at the Experimental Biology 2019 conference today that explored how 13-lined ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus) regulate protein metabolism during hibernation.

What is remarkable about 13-lined ground squirrels in particular is that they increase their creation of proteins and their muscle volume near the end of hibernation. This is puzzling because the animals are not obtaining proteins in the diet and they continue to lose body mass during hibernation. The research team speculate that the animals may be obtaining nitrogen to create proteins from their gut microbes.

Could you imagine if our gut microbes were so well adapted to provide us with protein when we need it?

Categories: Comparative Physiology

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