Scientists made an animal breathe without oxygen
A team of scientists have discovered a technique to keep tadpoles alive despite their ability to breathe being suppressed – by injecting algae into the blood vessels in the brains of small frogs, making their heads turn a bright, almost neon green .
What is the frog? Plants, like algae, produce oxygen through photosynthesis. Animals, on the other hand, can’t – we usually use lungs or gills to filter it from the environment.
But what if there was a way for animals to get the oxygen they need the same way plants do?
“Algae actually produced so much oxygen that it could revive nerve cells. “
A team of scientists from Ludwig Maximilians University inserted photosynthetic algae into tadpoles and then removed oxygen from their water. The idea was that the algae would form a mutually beneficial relationship between the frog and the microbe that would keep them both alive, even without environmental oxygen – like a small oxygen factory in the pollywog’s brain.
How they did it: To see if their mini-oxygen factory would work, the scientists injected the algae into the tadpoles, then starved them of oxygen until their brains went blank, reports The Scientist. Then they lit up the tadpoles, activating brain algae, which began to photosynthesize and produce oxygen. Indeed, the brain cells of the tadpole became active again.
They published their work in the journal iScience.
“The algae actually produced so much oxygen that they could revive nerve cells, if you will,” senior author Hans Straka told SciTech Daily. “To a lot of people this sounds like science fiction, but after all, it’s just the right combination of biological patterns and biological principles.”
Why this is important: In theory, this could lead to medical benefits, like temporarily providing enough oxygen to transplanted organs or helping skin wounds heal (something the team has already started to research). But let’s not analyze this too much – the study is mind boggling, regardless of the medical benefits.
Don’t hold your breath: Biologist Ryan Kerney told The Scientist that scientists have long tried to create symbiotic relationships between algae and animals. But he warns that studies, where whole microorganisms are introduced into cells or tissues intentionally to change their function, are “largely unregulated and under-reviewed.”
“But the potential implications are also fascinating to speculate,” Kerney said. “Can we move away from the breath to keep our brains going?” “
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A sample medical application has been added and updated in this article.