Researchers Are Mesmerized by How Low Oxygen Builds Stronger Hearts in Alligators

Researchers may have finally figured out why and how this occurs.

Who does not love alligators? Alligators are some of the most impressive creatures in the animal kingdom. Originally appearing 37 million years ago, the alligator is quite literally a living dinosaur. With its largest species 4 meters long and weighing in at 360 kilos, the alligator's largest known bite is about 16,460 newtons. 

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However, that is not the only trick that the animal has up its sleeve. Traditionally, in the animal kingdom, when an animal suffers from low or restricted oxygen during its early development this could potentially lead to heart damage. Well, not for alligators. In fact, low oxygen does not hurt the hearts of alligators but it makes them stronger. Researchers might finally understand why. 

The Alligator's Super Power

A team from the University of Guelph may have just cracked the riddle to how and why alligators benefit from tough early conditions in the egg. If you did not know already, lizard, alligators and turtles bury their eggs nests deep within the ground, depriving the young of some oxygen. 

Interestingly, the alligators that grow up in these low oxygen conditions, also known as hypoxia tend to be born with hearts that are bigger and stronger than their siblings that might have been exposed to a little bit more air.     

According to Sarah Alderman, an adjunct professor in U of G's Department of Integrative Biology who led the study, "Low oxygen at this early stage of life affects normal growth and developmental processes, especially in the heart. In placental mammals, like us, these changes are negative and last into adulthood. 

"But in alligators, we're seeing something different: the ones with the least oxygen in the nest might actually thrive." 

Understanding the Gift

To gain further insight into the alligator's unique trick, researchers worked on trying to understand what protein difference marks the hypoxic gator heart. After raising alligators eggs in both an oxygen friendly and oxygen-deprived situation, the team cracked the code.

According to the study, "Low oxygen in the egg induced a shift in the abundance of certain key molecules the heart uses for making heart proteins, for integrating these proteins into their cells, and for quickly removing and recycling any damaged proteins."

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These stronger hearts have the ability to better breakdown the fats needed for energy, another little trick that makes an alligator much stronger. 

Studies like this are interesting, as alligators have not changed much since their existence. 

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