Researchers have identified an adaptation in the blood of moles that allows more efficient transport of carbon dioxide, helping them to survive long periods of time in stifling conditions by re-breathing their own expired air.

Researchers have identified an adaptation in the blood of moles that allows more efficient transport of carbon dioxide, helping them to survive long periods of time in stifling conditions by re-breathing their own expired air.
 
The international team of researchers discovered this “super haemoglobin while studying the blood of 3 underground species of North American moles and have reported their findings in open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.
 
The eastern American mole (Scalopus  aquaticus linnacus)Kevin Campbell from the University of Manitoba in Canada, said: “Unlike terrestrial animals, moles are routinely exposed to conditions of low oxygen and high carbon dioxide. Burrowing is difficult in itself, but is made even more challenging by the requirement to re-breathe their own expired air.”
 
“We’ve found that one species, the Eastern mole, appears to be uniquely adapted to underground life through the evolution of a special kind of haemoglobin in its blood that greatly enhances its carbon dioxide carrying capacity.”
 
The researchers determined the genetic code of the different haeomoglobin components in 3 mole species and measured how well these components bind to their usual target molecules. They also tested the oxygen binding properties of whole blood samples.
 
Dr Campbell said: “It has been speculated that the main mechanism for the moles adaptation to subterranean life revolves around the molecule 2,3-diphosphoglycerate, or DPG. It modulates haemoglobin’s oxygen binding inside the blood cells. However, in the haemoglobin of the eastern mole, the key sites which would normally bind DPG are deleted, thereby allowing for the binding of additional carbon dioxide molecules.”
 
Co-author Roy Weber, from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, added: “Low oxygen concentrations and high levels of carbon dioxide in blood are life-threatening symptoms in patients with chronic obstructive lung diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis. Our research provides invaluable information for the development of new haemoglobins by gene therapy.”

 

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