You know that animals like whales and seals are capable of holding their breath for a long time. But how do they do it?
They’ve evolved to live the majority of the time in the water, and yet still breathe air as we do. So what evolution allowed them to hold their breath for so much longer than we can? Scientists have wondered the same thing, and have figured it out.
It all comes down to the amount of myoglobin they have in their bodies. Myoglobin is a protein within the muscles that stores oxygen.1 It’s responsible for allowing these mammals to store enough oxygen in their bodies to go on these deep dives for long periods of time.2
The scientists in the study traced myoglobin through 200 million years of history, seeing where and how it changed in these animals as they evolved.1They discovered that the myoglobin in these animals is positively charged and so the proteins act like magnets – since they’re all the same charge, they repel each other instead of attracting each other.3
This allows these animals to have more myoglobin in their muscles without the risk of them sticking together. When proteins stick together, it can cause disease. Since these don’t, these marine mammals can store more oxygen in their bodies, which they can use to stay underwater for longer periods of time.3
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All the best,
Chris & the WERC Team