Surviving fasting in the cold

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Posted on July 3, 2013
King penguin biology is characterized by an exceptionally long breeding cycle during which the chicks exhibit a terrestrial growing phase of longer than one year. During the austral winter, king penguin chicks are infrequently fed by their parents and usually undergo severe food deprivation. Credit: Pierre-Axel Monternier

King penguin biology is characterized by an exceptionally long breeding cycle during which the chicks exhibit a terrestrial growing phase of longer than one year. During the austral winter, king penguin chicks are infrequently fed by their parents and usually undergo severe food deprivation. Credit: Pierre-Axel Monternier

King penguin chicks survive harsh winters with almost no food by minimising the cost of energy production. A new study, to be presented at the Society for Experimental Biology meeting in Valencia on the 3rd July, shows that the efficiency of the mitochondria, the power house of the cell, is increased in fasted king penguin chicks.

 

King penguin chicks are socially and morphologically well adapted to harsh environmental conditions, however, they experience a severe energy challenge during the cold sub-Antarctic winter, when food is not readily available. Research headed by Pierre-Axel Monternier and Prof Damien Roussel at the Ecology of Natural and Man-impacted Hydrosystems laboratory in France looked, for the first time, at how the king penguin chicks’ mitochondria in skeletal muscle, the main heat producing tissue in birds, function during fasting in the winter.

Pierre-Axel Monternier said: “We found that the efficiency of mitochondrial functioning increased in fasted winter-acclimatized king penguin chicks. This indicates that less substrate/oxygen was consumed to produce the same amount of energy in the form of ATP, showing that mitochondria from fasted chicks adjust its functioning to minimize the cost of energy production.”

Read more at: Phys.org



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