How is Super Mole Blood Tied to Gene Therapy?


Photo of an Eastern mole by S. Aquaticus

Scientists have discovered that moles can survive underground for long periods of time because they have super hemoglobin. They have a more efficient means of transporting carbon dioxide. This allows them to burrow below the surface of the earth and, even cooler, be able to re-breathe their old air. According to a study in BMC Evolutionary Biology, scientists identified a new type of adaptation in the blood of moles that allows them to thrive in one of the toughest habitats on earth, underground. It's called super hemoglobin and according to the study, it's the reason these creatures are able to survive in a cold, dark habitat with little oxygen.

"We've found that one species, the Eastern mole, appears to be uniquely adapted to underground life through the evolution of a special kind of hemoglobin in its blood that greatly enhances its carbon dioxide carrying capacity," says Kevin Campbell from the University of Manitoba, Canada, who worked with a team of researchers on the study.

Now a quick lesson from grade school science. Blood serves to carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles and carbon dioxide from the muscles back to the lungs.

This research could do wonders for gene therapists, according to Roy Weber of the University of Aarhus, Denmark, and co-author of the study:

"Low oxygen concentrations and high levels of carbon dioxide in blood are life-threatening symptoms in patients with chronic obstructive lung diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis. Our research provides invaluable information for the development of new hemoglobins by gene therapy."

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