Goldfish use alcohol to survive in icy waters, scientists find

Evrard Martin
Août 12, 2017

Scientists have discovered that goldfish can survive without oxygen due to the alcohol that they produce.

Their molecular make-up sees the fish convert their anaerobically produced lactic acid into ethanol spreads across their gills and into the water.

"This research emphasizes the role of whole genome duplications in the evolution of biological novelty and the adaptation of species to previously inhospitable environments", said lead author Cathrine Elisabeth Fagernes, an administrative manager at the University of Oslo.

While humans and other vertebrate animals die within a few minutes without air, goldfish and their wild relative the crucian carp can survive for months without oxygen.

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

While one set of these proteins appears very similar to that in other species, the second set is strongly activated by the absence of oxygen.

Michale Berenbrink, an evolutionary physiologist at the University of Liverpool told MailOnline that this would put them above legal drink drive limit in most countries.

'During their time in oxygen-free water in ice-covered ponds, which can last for several months in their northern European habitat, blood alcohol concentrations in crucian carp can reach more than 50mg per 100 millilitres, ' said Dr Berenbrink.

In trying to explain the possibly evolutionary goal of the unique trait, lead author of the paper Dr Cathrine Elisabeth Fagernes said: "The ethanol production allows the crucian carp to be the only fish species surviving and exploiting these harsh environments, thereby avoiding competition and escaping predation by other fish species with which they normally interact in better-oxygenated waters".

The mechanism also allows the fish to avoid competition for food from other species, as well as predators.

"It's no wonder then that the crucian carp's cousin the goldfish is arguably one of the most resilient pets under human care".

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