Goldfish produce alcohol to survive beneath frozen lakes

Goldfish produce alcohol to survive beneath frozen lakes

Goldfish produce alcohol to survive harsh winters beneath frozen lakes and might "lose their inhibitions" as a result, researchers have found. The fish are thought to be the only known vertebrates with this talent - the more's the pity. This is an issue that many fish must deal with, typically by slowing down their movement dramatically and continuing to pull oxygen out of the water by passing it over their gills, but carp have developed a particularly robust backup system for dealing with oxygen depletion.

Researchers from various institutions including the University of Liverpool and University of Oslo have discovered that the popular pet and their wild carp relatives have a set of proteins in their bodies that channels carbohydrates towards the mitochondria, the "power pack" in cells that convert oxygen and nutrients into adenoise triphosphate (ATP), which provides the chemical energy for a cell to perform its metabolic activity.

Scientists have known for some time that goldfish can produce their own alcohol, but specifics of how and why were still a bit of a mystery. It also means their blood alcohol level rises so high that if they attempted to drive a vehicle they would risk a hefty fine and instant loss of licence.

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On a broader point, the researchers said that this special ability offered up some very important lessons on cell function.

Researchers suggest their findings - detailed this week in the journal Scientific Reports - are a reminder of the importance of genomic duplications in enabling species to adapt to seemingly inhospitable environs. One set functions to produce energy, while the other set comes into play when there is a lack of or absence of oxygen.

The study stated that the goldfish begins brewing the ethanol when it runs out of oxygen.

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The fish produced two types of similar enzymes necessary in the processing of glucose.

This mutation allows them to make ethanol outside the mitochondria.

"This is a much better situation than filling up with lactic acid, which is the metabolic end product for other vertebrates, including humans, when devoid of oxygen", says Liverpool evolutionary physiologist Michael Berenbrink. "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.", Dr Cathrine Elisabeth Fagernes, lead author of the study said.

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