Pigs and Rodents Can Breathe Through Their Butts in Emergencies

The recent study does make for a fun trivia fact.
Loukia Papadopoulos

You have probably heard the expression: when pigs can fly. Well, pigs can't fly just yet but what they can do is breathe through their butts according to a new study.

Rodents and pigs have the ability to use their intestines for respiration, finds a study published in the journal Med

"Artificial respiratory support plays a vital role in the clinical management of respiratory failure due to severe illnesses such as pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome," senior study author Takanori Takebe of the Tokyo Medical and Dental University and the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center said in a press release.

"Although the side effects and safety need to be thoroughly evaluated in humans, our approach may offer a new paradigm to support critically ill patients with respiratory failure."

The researchers tested these animals' ability to breathe through their anuses by engineering an intestinal gas ventilation system to administer pure oxygen through the rectum of mice. Their study demonstrated that without the system no mice survived 11 minutes of extremely low-oxygen conditions.

However, with intestinal gas ventilation, 75% of mice survived 50 minutes of normally lethal low-oxygen conditions. Now, the scientists are hoping their new system could be applied to humans particularly during the pandemic.

"The recent SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is overwhelming the clinical need for ventilators and artificial lungs, resulting in a critical shortage of available devices, and endangering patients' lives worldwide," Takebe said.

"The level of arterial oxygenation provided by our ventilation system, if scaled for human application, is likely sufficient to treat patients with severe respiratory failure, potentially providing life-saving oxygenation."

Of course, the human respiratory system is far more complex than that of a rodent or a pig. It's also unclear how the researchers plan to apply it to humans. Will they literally be inserting oxygen through the anus? We can imagine that that is not an approach people will take kindly to. Still, the research makes for at least a fun trivia fact the next time someone decides to ask what animals can breathe from their butt holes.