The secret as to how goldfish survive long harsh winters beneath frozen lakes has finally been discovered. Scientists have found that goldfish produce alcohol in low oxygen environments, which allows them to survive for up to five months under frozen water.
Most animals and humans die within a few minutes without oxygen. But Goldfish and their relatives – crucian carp – are able to survive for months at a time. They can do this by converting anaerobically produces lactic acid into ethanol which diffuses across their gills into surrounding water. They are able to survive for around five months, relying on glycogen stored in their liver.

Above the Drink & Drive Limit

Co-author of the study, Dr Michael Berenbrink from the University of Liverpool, said: “During their time in oxygen-free water in ice-covered ponds, which can last for several months in their northern European habitat, blood alcohol concentrations in crucian carp can reach more than 50 mg per 100 millilitres, which is above the drink drive limit in these countries.”
Researchers discovered that crucian carp and goldfish muscles contain two sets of protein used to Chanel carbohydrates towards their breakdown within the mitochondria. Although one set seems similar to that in other species, the other one, however, is strongly activated by oxygen absence.

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Lead author of the study, Dr Catherine Fagernes, from the University of Oslo, said: “This research emphasises the role of whole genome duplications in the evolution of biological novelty and the adaptation of species to previously inhospitable environments.
The ethanol production allows the crucian carp to be the only fish species surviving and exploiting these harsh environments, thereby avoiding competition and escaping predation by other fish species with which they normally interact in better-oxygenated waters.”

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