It’s often considered one of the weirdest sea creatures and almost certainly the slimiest. But learning how hagfish survive without oxygen could offer valuable insights for cardiovascular research, according to a new study co-led by Prof. Todd Gillis, Integrative Biology.
The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, is the first of its kind to examine how the isolated hagfish heart functions for extended time periods with little or no oxygen.
Hagfish are ocean bottom-feeders that produce protective slime and live in low-oxygen environments, including buried in the mud on the ocean floor or inside the guts of dead animals.
Studies have found that hagfish can fully recover from 36 hours without oxygen. The human heart becomes damaged if deprived of oxygen for five minutes.
“We are a long ways from finding answers to what this means for people. However, learning how the hagfish heart survives without oxygen in a state of anoxia can give us insight into human cardiovascular health, and specifically into strategies to protect tissue integrity after cardiac events,” says Gillis, who worked with researchers from the University of British Columbia on the study.