APR 20, 2017 7:09 PM PDT

These Mammals Turn Into Plants When Deprived of Oxygen

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Naked mole rats are very interesting animals that live under extreme conditions, and they have a unique coping mechanism. Researchers have learned that when deprived of oxygen these creatures will begin to metabolize fructose, like plants do, in order to survive. The work may aid in treatments for heart attacks and strokes, situations in which people are faced with a critical lack of oxygen; it has been reported in the journal Science, and is outlined in the following video.

"This is just the latest remarkable discovery about the naked mole-rat - a cold-blooded mammal that lives decades longer than other rodents, rarely gets cancer, and doesn't feel many types of pain," explained Thomas Park, a Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who led an international collaboration that included the Max Delbrück Institute in Berlin and the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

The brain cells of mammals like mice and humans are known to become depleted of energy and die off when they don’t get any oxygen. In the case of the unusual naked mole rat however, their brain cells will turn to fructose for energy by taking advantage of a chemical pathway that had previously only been known to exist in plants.

The investigators placed the animals in an environment with low levels of oxygen, and then discovered that they were releasing lots of fructose into the bloodstream. The researchers determined that molecular fructose pumps in the brain were importing the sugar into the brain. Those pumps are normally only found in intestinal cells in other mammals.

"The naked mole-rat has simply rearranged some basic building-blocks of metabolism to make it super-tolerant to low oxygen conditions," said Park, who has worked with this intriguing animal for 18 years.

Park noted that these animals can live in a state of suspended animation when confronted with these extreme conditions. They are able to survive for hours in conditions that would kill other mammals, including people, within minutes. Their movement slows and their pulse and breathing rate drops. Then they start to use fructose for energy until oxygen is returned to their environment.

The investigators believe that the rats’ living conditions, underground in burrows, is the cause for these unusual abilities. The animals are also protected from pulmonary edema that can be seen in high-altitude climbers.

This work could have interesting applications. "Our work is the first evidence that a mammal switches to fructose as a fuel," commented Gary Lewin of UIC. He wants to know if human cells might also be pushed to these extremes. "Patients who suffer an infarction or stroke experience irreparable damage after just a few minutes of oxygen deprivation," he said. "Theoretically, very few changes might be needed to adopt this unusual metabolism."

 

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via UIC, Max Delbrück Center of Molecular Medicine, Science

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
APR 22, 2020
Immunology
Scientists Engineer Custom Antiviral Receptors to Fight COVID-19
APR 22, 2020
Scientists Engineer Custom Antiviral Receptors to Fight COVID-19
The best offense may be a good defense in the fight against COVID-19. Researchers from the Duke-NUS Medical School are e ...
APR 30, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Cell Movement Increases as Interactions Increase, Contrary to Assumptions
APR 30, 2020
Cell Movement Increases as Interactions Increase, Contrary to Assumptions
New research has changed what we know about how cells interact with each other.
MAY 18, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Just One Fatty Meal Can Impair Focus
MAY 18, 2020
Just One Fatty Meal Can Impair Focus
Many tasty and convenient foods are high in fat, and new research has suggested that just one fatty meal may hinder our ...
JUN 03, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
A New Insulin That's Based on Cone Snail Venom
JUN 03, 2020
A New Insulin That's Based on Cone Snail Venom
Insulin is a hormone that's produced by a specific set of cells in the pancreas, and it functions to regulate blood ...
JUL 08, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
How Caffeine Can Aid Lizard Conservation Efforts
JUL 08, 2020
How Caffeine Can Aid Lizard Conservation Efforts
Lizards are thought to be under threat due to habitat loss, predation, climate change, and other factors worldwide.
JUL 08, 2020
Immunology
Scientists Use Genetics to Control Regulatory T Cells
JUL 08, 2020
Scientists Use Genetics to Control Regulatory T Cells
The ability to control regulatory T cells of the immune system has long been sought out by scientists, especially those ...
Loading Comments...