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A Momentary Flow

Evolving Worldviews

Oxygen mystery: How marine mammals hold their breath

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Scientists say they have solved the mystery of one of the most extreme adaptations in the animal kingdom: how marine mammals store enough oxygen to hold their breath for up to an hour. The team studied myoglobin, an oxygen-storing protein in mammals’ muscles and found that, in whales and seals, it has special “non-stick” properties. This allowed the animals to pack huge amounts of oxygen into their muscles without “clogging them up”. The findings are published in Science. Dr Michael Berenbrink from the Institute of Integrative Biology at the University of Liverpool took part in the study. He said that scientists had long wondered how marine mammals managed to pack so much of this vital protein into their bodies. “At high enough concentrations, [proteins] tend to stick together, so we tried to understand how seals and whales evolved higher and higher concentrations of this protein in their muscles without a loss of function,” he told BBC News. (via BBC News - Oxygen mystery: How marine mammals hold their breath)

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