Researchers examine protective strategies of weddell and elephant seals
Deep-diving seals which rely on lung collapse to prevent damage and limit nitrogen absorption are protected by an anti-inflammatory serum, according to new research.
Researchers hope their finding could protect deep sea divers from long-term lung damage and aid with the healing process.
Published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, the study looked at how weddell and elephant seals protect their lungs when they perform a deep dive.
Researchers from various US institutions, including Harvard Medical School and the University of Connecticut, examined the inflammatory response of seal blood and human blood exposed to the bacterial toxin lipopolysaccharide.
They found that the toxin triggered hardly any inflammatory response in the seal blood. In the human blood, however, inflammation was 50 to 500 times greater. When the researchers added serum extracted from seal blood to mouse immune cells, the serum decreased the immune response.
“These data suggest that seal serum possesses anti-inflammatory properties, which may protect deep divers from naturally occurring inflammatory challenges, such as dive-induced hypoxia-deoxygenation and lung collapse," the researchers note.
Weddell and elephant seals are impressive divers. Elephant seals can go as far as 1,550m beneath the surface of the ocean, whilst weddell seals can dive to around 600m and spend as long as 82 minutes.
The team would now like to identify the protective compounds in the hope that one day they could extend the life of transplanted organs and help treat lung damage.