Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

Sponsored by the American Physiological Society

Extreme Animals

Extreme tolerance of dehydration stress

Talk about an extreme animal. During the rainy season annual killifish, Austrofundulus limnaeus, lay eggs that are resistant to droughts. This is an important attribute for a fish that lives in temporary pools of water. The stress-resistant embryos within the eggs literally shut down their metabolism to survive months – possibly years without water. For many fish, exposure to air (and oxygen) can cause profound oxidative stress. Remarkably, this is […]

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Scientists discover gene that may protect from hypertension

Giraffes are extreme. Given their long necks, their blood pressure is 2.5 times higher than ours, which ensures that oxygenated blood makes it all the way up to their head. Having high blood pressure, however, is simply a normal characteristic of being a giraffe. A new study published in Science Advances explored the giraffe genome to identify genes that might help protect the cardiovascular system of giraffes by comparing their […]

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Anoxia tolerance in goldfish

The reason mammals are not very good at tolerating hypoxic (i.e. low oxygen) environments, is because the brain relies heavily on oxygen for metabolism. It is so stingy, it uses about 20% of the oxygen in the body to make ATP. Without oxygen, the brain has to rely on glycolysis to make ATP and this process is not good at meeting the energy requirements of the neurons, ultimately resulting in […]

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Metabolic costs of reproduction, eating, and increasing temperatures

Planarians are rather cute little flatworms, although they tend to wreak havoc in fish tanks. Researchers have long been fascinated by their ability to regenerate body parts when injured with the help of adult stem cells. More recently, they have gained attention for their ability to survive long periods of time without eating by “degrowing”, i.e. getting smaller but still keeping their shape and functions intact. I would shrink too […]

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How exercise training and diet may impact exercise performance

Both diet and exercise training are associated with muscle performance and endurance. Migratory birds undergo intense endurance exercise. In fact, a recent review indicated that flapping flight costs more energy (9 x increase from basal metabolic rate) than required by elite athletes competing in the Tour de France (4.3 x increase from basal metabolic rate) (Butler, 2016). Unlike running animals, migratory birds fuel endurance exercise with fats as opposed to […]

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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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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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New study may help shed light on avian diversity

An international team of scientists have characterized the genome of 363 species of birds representing 92.4% of avian families. 267 of these species were newly released sequences as part of the Bird 10,000 Genomes (B10K) Project. The goal of this project is to find both similarities as well as unique genome variations among lineages of birds that might contribute to their amazing biodiversity. The study also confirmed that the common […]

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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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