Nav: Home

ASU study finds animals can use muscle as an internal water source

July 26, 2018

Water is vital for life.

But as our climate changes, the availability of water is also changing, leaving animals with limited or unreliable supplies of this critical resource.

However, a new Arizona State University study published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences shows for the first time that animals may be able to use their own muscles to get water when it's not available. Researchers from ASU and the Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé in France teamed up on the project and the findings were published June 27.

"We know about the importance of fat reserves to fuel the energetic costs of reproduction. But what about water? Our study shows that during reproduction, muscle metabolism is linked to the water requirements of developing offspring. Fat is only about 10 percent water, whereas muscle is closer to 75 percent, so burning muscle will release extra water," said George Brusch IV, lead investigator for the project and doctoral student at Arizona State University. "From an evolutionary perspective, the concept of capital breeding -- or using stored resources to fuel reproduction -- is currently restricted to energetic needs. We propose that this should extend to a broader, multi-resource strategy that also includes water allocation."

The researchers looked into this concept by studying the effects of water deprivation on the reproductive efforts of female Children's pythons, a medium-sized snake that reproduces during the dry-season in Australia, where natural water sources are extremely limited. They found that muscles play an important role in providing water to the body when none is available.

"Female Children's pythons can change how they use internal resources based on limitations in the environment," said Brusch. "Understanding exactly how animals cope with resource restrictions will help scientists predict whether the animals might be impacted by future climate change, where, in many regions, rain is expected to be less reliable," said Brusch, a doctoral candidate in the School of Life Sciences biology PhD program.

During the study, the researchers paired pregnant Children's pythons with similarly sized non-reproductive females. During a three-week period when the snakes were pregnant, only half of the pairs had access to water. Reproductive females, both in the lab and the wild, don't eat during pregnancy and rely on internal reserves such as fat and muscle for their energy needs.

The scientists then measured the by-products of burning fat and muscle such as ketones and uric acid, as well as muscle size and impact on the snakes' eggs and clutch sizes. The animals without water burned more muscle than fat to meet their water requirements. In addition, the animals without water laid a similar number of eggs per clutch, but their eggs weighed less and the shells were thinner.

Brittany Kaminsky, an ASU student researcher on the team, just graduated from the School of Life Sciences with a Bachelor of Science degree in neurobiology, physiology and behavior. Kaminsky, who will attend U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in the fall, coordinated much of the project.

"I think what was most interesting about our results is that dehydration can play complex roles in reproduction, such that it affects other body systems. I feel, at the organism level, a single ailment can manifest in a variety of ways, and I think this is valuable information that I will carry with me into my veterinary career," said Kaminsky.

During the project, Kaminsky helped pair the females into the reproductive and non-reproductive groups by mass and snout-vent length. She also monitored the reproductive progress of the females by ultrasound and learned how to collect blood samples, process and store them.

"Few of my peers have had the opportunity to train a team of other undergraduates or learn some of the technical skills I developed throughout the course of the study, such as cardiocentesis and ultrasound," said Kaminsky. "Dr. Dale DeNardo and George were both there when I needed guidance, but they also gave me a lot of space to learn on my own and grow as a scientist. I couldn't have asked for better mentors."

Most animals need steady access to water in order to survive, especially during reproduction, and the authors suggest that using muscle as a water store may be a widespread phenomenon. "Our enhanced knowledge regarding the relationship between hydration and reproductive investment will also enable us to better understand global responses to water limitations and change the way scientists approach reproductive investment in ecological contexts, which, in the past, frequently ignore water and focus solely on energetic resources," said Brusch.
-end-


Arizona State University

Related Climate Articles:

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
How aerosols affect our climate
Greenhouse gases may get more attention, but aerosols -- from car exhaust to volcanic eruptions -- also have a major impact on the Earth's climate.
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
How trees could save the climate
Around 0.9 billion hectares of land worldwide would be suitable for reforestation, which could ultimately capture two thirds of human-made carbon emissions.
Climate undermined by lobbying
For all the evidence that the benefits of reducing greenhouse gases outweigh the costs of regulation, disturbingly few domestic climate change policies have been enacted around the world so far.
Climate education for kids increases climate concerns for parents
A new study from North Carolina State University finds that educating children about climate change increases their parents' concerns about climate change.
Inclusion of a crop model in a climate model to promote climate modeling
A new crop-climate model provides a good tool to investigate the relationship between crop development and climate change for global change studies.
Natural climate solutions are not enough
To stabilize the Earth's climate for people and ecosystems, it is imperative to ramp up natural climate solutions and, at the same time, accelerate mitigation efforts across the energy and industrial sectors, according to a new policy perspective published today in Science.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
More Climate News and Climate Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.