Goldfish use alcohol to survive in icy waters, scientists find

Science								Image Source Annie Roi

Science Image Source Annie Roi

Survival of the fittest means getting drunk in frozen waters for goldfish. Their bodies have a remarkable ability for producing alcohol.

By making alcohol, crucian carp and goldfish can survive months under icy water.

Now researchers have discovered how goldfish have managed to avoid death by diffusing risky lactic acid buildup as alcohol. When that oxygen runs out, the cells turn to a different process, anaerobic respiration, that produces lactic acid, which can quickly build up and cause harm.

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It may not keep them from going belly-up if you take a vacation and forget to have a friend feed them, but that lowly little goldfish on your countertop is one heck of a survival specialist. If goldfish can not get rid of this lactic acid, they would die within few minutes.

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".

Scientists at the universities of Oslo and Liverpool discovered the key to the goldfish's unique metabolic ability: a pair of proteins key to the breakdown of carbohydrates inside the cell's mitochondria.

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The mechanism also allows the fish to avoid competition for food from other species, as well as predators. However, since the fish tend to save energy by barely moving while the process occurs, researchers are not sure whether they are affected by alcohol or it's just a matter of energy conservation.

How much alcohol is produced might astound some, with crucian carp creating up to 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, above the drink-driving limit of many countries. However, in the recent study, the researchers found out that there is another enzyme that kicks in in low-oxygen environments, called pyruvate decarboxylase, which is similar to an enzyme found in brewers yeast.

"This research emphasizes the role of whole genome duplications in the evolution of biological novelty and the adaptation of species to previously inhospitable environments", University of Oslo researcher and lead author Cathrine Elisabeth Fagerne said. It's something that sets them apart from other species.

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