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Undergraduate Research Project Management System

Myoglobin Concentrations and Acid Buffering Capacity in Seal Cardiac Tissue

Status Complete
Seeking Researchers No
Start Date 09/01/2007
End Date 06/30/2008
Funding Source Alaska Heart Institute Fellowships
Funding Amount
Community Partner
Related Course
Last Updated 09/25/2010 01:04AM


  Jennifer Burns

Student Researchers
  Nancy Bishop


Aquatic mammals, particularly those who participate in deep diving behaviors, require different physiological and biochemical adaptations to survive in low oxygen environment. These animals have been shown to have increased lung capacity, higher blood volume, higher myglobin and hemoglobin concentrations, and larger muscle mass, compared to terrestrial animals (Kooyman & Ponganis, 1998). These variations allow the animals to sustain aerobic respiration for longer periods of time while breath-hold diving. Hooded and harp seals can both make long, deep dives that require adaptations promoting oxygen conservation, as well as those which allow for anaerobic respiration byproducts, such as lactic acid, to be buffered so that tissue pH levels do not change substantially. The physiological and biochemical adaptations that promote breath-hold diving have been studied in skeletal muscle, yet little research has been done to determine adaptations of the cardiac muscle. Cardiac muscle has a greater requirement for sustained oxygen availability than skeletal muscle because the former cannot resort to anaerobic respiration (Kooyman & Ponganis, 1998). In light of this, we would expect that the myoglobin content and acid buffering capabilities would differ between these two tissues. Furthermore, neonatal seals are largely terrestrial for their first several weeks, and the absence of diving in these young animals may negate the need for increased oxygen preserving mechanisms. However, as the seals near maturity and begin to participate in deep diving activities, their physiology must develop in order to accommodate for the lack of oxygen underwater. In order to determine the pattern of physiological development in young seals, our project will specifically examine the concentrations of myoglobin and acid buffering capabilities in the cardiac muscle of 27 seals over the 2007 summer and fall semesters. Comparisons will be made within species between age groups, as well as between similar aged individuals in the two species. Differences in myoglobin content and acid buffering ability of cardiac and skeletal muscle tissue will also be examined. This research will reveal how adaptations for withstanding periods of low oxygen availability develop in the heart tissue of these two deep-diving seal species. This information in turn may give us more insight into the abilities of the cardiac muscle to withstand short periods of hypoxia, such as frequently occur in humans when blood vessels providing oxygen to cardiac tissue are blocked.

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