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Check Out This Blood Doping Fish!

Blood doping is a method which aims to boost a person’s athletic performance by increasing the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in the bloodstream.

Athletes can use this technique to fuel their muscles with more oxygen-carrying red blood cells—for example, by receiving a transfusion.

While blood doping (which is banned in professional sports, by the way) is an artificial method in humans, there are many animals who can dope naturally.

… pigs, marine fish and diving seals can boost their blood oxygen levels by 40 to 60 percent in physically demanding situations…

While this is already an impressive feat, there is an animal who dopes on an entirely different level. Introducing the bald notothen, the Antarctic fish which can increase its blood oxygen levels by over 200 percent.

Like most fish native to Antarctica, the bald notothen’s blood contains antifreeze proteins that help it withstand extreme cold. Yet these proteins, along with red blood cells (RBCs), can make blood viscous and hard to circulate. Some Antarctic fish compensate by eliminating RBCs altogether, absorbing oxygen directly from the water via gills and skin as they passively await prey. Bald notothens, however, actively swim below surface ice to chase krill and other crustaceans while dodging predators such as penguins and seals. For this behavior, “you need to supply [more] oxygen to the muscles,” says Michael Axelsson, a cardiovascular physiologist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and co-author of the new study, which was published in January in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Now that’s DOPE!

(Image Credit: Paulo Oliviera/ Alamy / Scientific American)

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