Deep-diving whales can hold answer for synthetic blood, reveal Rice University researchers.
The ultra-stable properties of the proteins that allow deep-diving whales to remain active while holding their breath for up to two hours could help Rice University biochemist John Olson and his colleagues finish a 20-year quest to create lifesaving synthetic blood for human trauma patients.
In the study, Olson and colleagues George Phillips, Lucian Smith and Premila Samuel compared the muscle protein myoglobin from humans, whales and other deep-diving mammals. Myoglobin holds oxygen for ready use inside muscle cells, and the study found that marine mammals have ultra-stable versions of myoglobin that tend not to unfold.
The researchers found that stability was the key for cells to make large amounts of myoglobin, which explains why deep-diving mammals can load their muscle cells with far more myoglobin than humans.
Whales and other deep-diving marine mammals can pack 10-20 times more myoglobin into their cells than humans can, and that allows them to 'download' oxygen directly into their skeletal muscles and stay active even when they are holding their breath, said Olson. The reason whale meat is so dark is that it's filled with myoglobin that is capable of holding oxygen.
But when the myoglobin is newly made, it does not yet contain heme. "We found that the stability of heme-free myoglobin is the key factor that allows cells to produce high amounts of myoglobin," Olson added. The study appears in the Journal of Biological Chemistry