Health Care

Goldfish turn to alcohol to get through winter in icy ponds

Goldfish turn to alcohol to get through winter in icy ponds”

Scientists have uncovered how the goldfish produce alcohol to survive harsh winters beneath frozen lakes, a remarkable ability that makes it one of the most resilient pets under human care. It won't let them die in extreme winter conditions.

In a paper published to Scientific Reports, a team of researchers from the University of Liverpool discovered that goldfish and their wild relatives, the crucian carp, are able to convert anaerobically produced lactic acid into ethanol. This is an issue that many fish must deal with, typically by slowing down their movement dramatically and continuing to pull oxygen out of the water by passing it over their gills, but carp have developed a particularly robust backup system for dealing with oxygen depletion. This enzyme is released when oxygen runs low and lactic acid begins building up, and ensures that the goldfish only create ethanol through fermentation, instead of lactic acid. If goldfish can not get rid of this lactic acid, they would die within few minutes.

They have pinpointed sets of proteins which are normally used to produce energy by channelling carbohydrates towards their breakdown within a cell's mitochondria.

Based on genetic analysis performed on the protein sets, this unusual feature came about as a result of a "genome duplication event" that took place about 8 million years ago in a common ancestor of goldfish and crucian carp.

While one of the proteins is similar to its vertebrate cousins, the second has been found to switch on in the absence of oxygen, allowing for the production of alcohol outside the mitochondria.

"The adaptation is very rare among animals".

By making alcohol, crucian carp and goldfish can survive months under icy water. And while that might sound preposterous, or like something out of a cartoon, study co-author Michael Berenbrink from the University of Liverpool told Gizmodo that the behavior of goldfish does seem to change after they "brew" their alcohol, though it isn't sure whether these changes are due to the alcohol or part of a survival strategy.

Scientists at the University of Oslo in Norway and University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom found the molecular mechanism behind this highly unusual ability, which is unique among vertebrates and more commonly associated with brewer's yeast.

"However, this is still a much better situation than filling up with lactic acid, which is the metabolic end product for other vertebrates, including humans, when devoid of oxygen", said Berenbrink.

Crucian carp and goldfish have developed an anaerobic metabolic - that is, oxygen independent - fallback process.

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