Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

Sponsored by the American Physiological Society

Environment

Top New Species in 2020

I think most of us can agree that we are delighted to see the end of 2020. As we say good riddance and look forward to a brighter future, I thought it would be fun to consider one of the positive aspects of this past year by taking a peek at some of my favorite newly discovered or described species in 2020. Achalinus zugorum While there are many species of […]

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Extreme Fasting

While giant pandas roll in horse manure to stay warm in the winter (that’s a different story), other animals spend up to 8 months hibernating to conserve energy during times of reduced food availability and freezing temperatures. During their long winter’s nap, animals such as the Arctic ground squirrel and 13-lined ground squirrel go without food or water while at the same time avoiding muscle wasting – a rather impressive […]

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Staying warm on a chilly day

Giant panda bears have a very unusual trick to staying warm. This unusual behavior was first noted by scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing who observed a giant panda rolling around in horse manure in the Qinling mountains in central China during the winter of 2007. To see whether this was just a rogue panda or a more common behavior, scientists set up camera traps and observed […]

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Long sperm, short sperm, fast sperm, slow sperm

I read an interesting review published in Physiology that examined how sperm from different species are especially evolved to help promote fertilization, which if successful, results in the creation of an offspring. It is simply amazing to think of the multitude of ways this process occurs in nature. Take marine invertebrates and fish for example. These animals release eggs and sperm into the water. In contrast, fertilization happens internally in […]

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Live fast, die young

Researchers have long known that smaller animals have higher metabolisms and tend to die younger than larger animals. Think about it – a mouse typically only lives about 2 years whereas an elephant in the wild may live 50-70 years, depending on the species. After studying over 700 species of birds and 540 species of mammals, scientists discovered that migratory animals also live faster (mature and reproduce earlier) and die […]

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How a really long winter’s nap can impact sperm production

As winter approaches, hibernating animals will finalize their preparations for taking a ‘long winter’s nap’. These remarkable animals reduce their metabolism to help conserve energy at a time when environmental resources are scarce and considerable energy would otherwise need to be spent on just staying warm. For many species of hibernators, periodically entering this state of torpor allows them to reduce their energy needs by 90% compared to intermittent states […]

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Nature’s architects

Nature has already solved many problems that doctors, researchers, and architects are still trying to solve for humans. For example, some of our prior posts have talked about how some animals are resistant to developing cancer: Elephants Tasmanian devils Naked mole rats Other animals have developed special nano antibodies (nanobodies) to fight disease. Llamas While several are tolerant of very low oxygen levels in the environment, others are champions of […]

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Comparative Physiologist listed among the 100 most influential people of 2020

I was very excited to see Comparative Physiologist and astronaut Jessica Meir listed among Time’s 100 most influential people of 2020. Together with astronaut Christina Koch, who was also named among the top 100, the astronauts performed the first all-female spacewalk at the International Space Station in 2019. In all, the pair completed three spacewalks while aboard the International Space Station. It is hard to imagine how challenging it must […]

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Getting away from salt – the transition to life on land

The transition of vertebrates from the salty ocean to life on land required the ability for these animals to change how they dealt with salt. While salt is essential for many cellular functions, salt balance must be tightly regulated to prevent illness or even death. Animals that live in a salty environment have evolved the ability to get rid of excess salt from their bodies whereas land-dwelling animals evolved the […]

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Researchers discover cause of hearing loss in an underground dweller

Naked mole rats are rather extreme animals in many ways. As underground dwellers, they live in chronically hypoxic environments and are blind. These animals also age more slowly than other mammals and are resistant to developing cancer even though they are long-lived. Did you also know, they are hard of hearing? In a new study published in Current Biology, researchers have discovered the cause of their hearing loss. The inner […]

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