Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

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Defining Comparative Physiology

Lab head shot 1.1Today I interviewed Mr. Anthony J. Basile from Arizona State University who is working in the laboratory of Dr. Karen Sweazea. Anthony is a nutritionist and a third-year evolutionary biology PhD student whose research focuses on nutrition-related disease. He was scheduled to present his study at the 2020 Experimental Biology conference in San Diego last month. As with many plans these days, the conference was cancelled due to Covid-19.

Can you tell me a little about Dr. August Krogh? August Krogh

Dr. August Krogh was Nobel Prize awarded physiologist who famously said “For many problems there is an animal on which it can be most conveniently studied” which is currently known as the Krogh Principle. At the time, Krogh was calling for the union of the fields of physiology and zoology, and today, this principle is credited as the cornerstone of the field of comparative physiology. What started as a simple quote from 1929, launched a whole section of physiological research that utilizes life’s biodiversity to better understand physiology.


What inspired you to conduct this study aimed at defining the field of Comparative Physiology?

When I first attended the Experimental Biology conference in 2018, I went to numerous Comparative and Evolutionary Physiology Section (CEPS) presentations and spoke with many of its members. In doing so, I realized that whenever someone was using the term “Comparative Physiology,” they were almost always using it in a different context compared to others. This gave me the idea to survey physiologists to see how they define the term “Comparative Physiology.” I was also curious if comparative and non-comparative physiologists would have a different understanding of what comparative physiology is.

What were some of the main take-aways from your results?

When asked to define comparative physiology, the majority of definitions described comparing across different species or animals with different research perspectives or questions. In addition, we also identified numerous other research approaches that were associated with comparative physiology (e.g., evolutionary and environmental physiology). Interestingly, few physiologists specifically described the Krogh Principle when asked to defined comparative physiology. Overall, no major differences were found between comparative and non-comparative physiologists.

In what ways does Dr. August Krogh still inspire the field of Comparative Physiology today?

August Krogh was so influential to the field of Comparative Physiology, that the Comparative and Evolutionary Physiology Section annually awards the August Krogh Distinguished Lectureship award to a scientist who has made major and meritorious contributions to the scientific areas represented by the APS Comparative and Evolutionary Physiology Section. Click here for a list of prior awardees. Krogh’s work was also very influential to non-comparative physiology and general biological research broadly as the use of model organisms in research is also attributed to the Krogh Principle. Collectively, there are numerous types of model organisms that are currently utilized, and their origins can often be traced back to the Krogh Principle (See next section for example).

How do you use the Krogh Principle in your research?

In my research lab, The Sweazea Lab, we use the Krogh Principle by using birds as a model organism. Due to their natural high blood glucose concentrations, birds can serve as a negative model of mammalian hyperglycemia without compilations. In addition, birds can also serve as a natural animal since we can study them without inducing a specific phenotype. Therefore, studying their unique physiology can provide insights into their physiology and also tentative therapeutic agents for human diabetes treatment or prevention. Through my research, we are using different diet treatments to better understand how this animal model’s physiology is altered by diets. Specifically, we are interested if we can alter avian blood glucose concentrations by diet as a poor-quality diet is a strong risk factor for human diabetes.

Stay tuned for more details on this exciting topic. 

Thanks for interviewing me and running this fantastic blog! I was really looking forward to attending Experimental Biology in 2020 and I was saddened by its cancellation. I really appreciate the opportunity to give a summary of my abstract here to your blog readers! My full abstract can be found here. Keep an eye out for a larger publication from this study.

Categories: Comparative Physiology, Physiology on the Road

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