Nitrogen Solubility in Marine Animals



We were very fortunate to receive the Hamilton syringe grant, as it allowed us to acquire syringes for two projects: for the gas chromatograph, which in our lab is used for fatty acid analysis of animal tissues (from a wide range of species, from zooplankton to storm petrels, penguins to sea turtles, lobsters to bowhead whales!) and for our nitrogen apparatus, which we use to measure the solubility of nitrogen gas in oils extracted from the tissues of diving animals.

Many students, both undergraduate and graduate, benefited directly from this grant as they used either the gas chromatograph or the nitrogen apparatus. Data resulting from these studies was presented at several conferences, including the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in Austin TX (2014 and 2015), the Southeast and Mid Atlantic Marine Mammal Symposium (2014 and 2015), and the Society for Marine Mammalogy. The most significant scientific outcome we had this year was the recent publication of my M.Sc. student’s work in the Journal of Experimental Biology, in which we describe the high nitrogen solubility in the special echolocation tissues of toothed whales, and the fact that this might make them vulnerable to gas emboli in these tissues if their normal diving behavior is disrupted.

Gina L. Lonati, Andrew J. Westgate, D. Ann Pabst and Heather N. Koopman.

Nitrogen solubility in odontocete blubber and mandibular fats in relation to lipid composition. J Exp Biol 2015 218:2620-2630.

The paper was selected by the J. Exp. Biol. editors as one to highlight in their “Inside JEB” section of the issue:  http://jeb.biologists.org/content/218/16/2491

and then was subsequently picked up by National Geographic online:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/08/150819-whales-dolphins-bends-decompression-sickness/