Everyone knows that a little nip of some fiery spirits is often perfect for staving off the worst of the weather. Indeed under the right conditions, a nice, peaty single malt can be positively medicinal. But it’s interesting (and somewhat reassuring) to know that we humans aren’t the only ones to benefit from a spot of the strong stuff when things get icy.
In a recent joint study by the Universities of Oslo and Liverpool, scientists have discovered that even the familiar little goldfish can still surprise us all by surviving for months in oxygen-starved water at the bottom of frozen lakes and ponds, and the secret lies in the goldfish's remarkable ability to produce alcohol.
When the muscles of vertebrates don’t get enough oxygen, lactic acid is created in the cells and builds up, causing all sorts of havoc. But goldfish have found a way to convert that lactic acid into alcohol which they then diffuse harmlessly across their gills into the surrounding water. It’s an ability that’s not been documented in any other vertebrate on earth, and is indeed one that’s more commonly associated with brewer's yeast than with a family pet.
But while undoubtedly effective, this canny tactic has the side-effect of elevating their blood alcohol levels to more than 50 mg per 100 millilitres, which is above the legal drink-drive limit in many of the Northern European countries in which they’re found. This means that while they’re able to survive without oxygen in icy waters, they do so by effectively staying comfortably inebriated for months at a time.
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