Scientists claim a tiny animal doesn’t need oxygen to live


These are the spores of a Henneguya salminicola parasite (Stephen Atkinson/CNN)

Since the beginning of modern science, it has been the belief animals as we know them must have oxygen to survive. Now this belief is being disproved. 

Dr. Stephen Atkinson, Bartholomew Lab, Senior Research Associate (Photo: Oregon State University)

There is a tiny “animal” living inside some salmon which can live without oxygen.  The tiny parasite is called Henneguya salminicola. It was featured in a recent published study in the journal PNAS authored by Stephen Atkinson, a senior research associate at Oregon State University’s Department of Microbiology, and several associates. 

The H. salminicola, as it is called, It lives inside salmon and “steals ready-made nutrients” from it, Atkinson said, instead of consuming oxygen directly. 

Since it lives inside salmon, the Alaska Fish and Game department has come across the effects of fish with this parasite. The parasite causes what the Alaskan officials call milky flesh or tapioca disease, named for the white fluid-filled cysts it causes in the fish. 

CNN has reported the parasite has adapted to living without oxygen by dropping its mitochondria genome entirelyMitochondria convert food into energy in most organisms. 

The discovery has been met with more questions. One of them, how the parasite gets its energy if it’s not from aerobic respiration (breathing). Meaning the research on this parasite is continuing. 

According to CBS News, this is not a total surprise to some scientists. Some have noted other single-celled organisms, including fungi and amoebas, have also lost the need to breathe over time, but this is the first time it’s been documented in an animal. 

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