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Faculty candidate seminar - Michael Tift

05/13/2019 - 1:30pm
Eckart 227
Event Description: 


Organismal Physiologist or Zooplankton Ecologist/Curator

DATE:          May 13th, Monday, 1:30 p.m.  

LOCATION:     Eckart 227
SPEAKER:      Michael Tift
TITLE:          From the depths of the ocean to the top of mountains: Understanding the benefits of endogenous carbon monoxide (CO) in hypoxia-tolerant              vertebrates


I have worked closely with other researchers to discover that certain species (e.g., northern elephant seals and humans living at high altitude in Peru) with high concentrations of hemoglobin also have high concentrations of carbon monoxide (CO) in their blood that mimic the levels seen in chronic cigarette smokers. To many, CO is known as the ‘Silent Killer’ and thought to be a strictly toxic gas that is found in sources such as cigarette smoke and car exhaust. However, CO is also produced naturally in the body through the constant turnover of red blood cells and degradation of heme found in heme proteins, such as hemoglobin. While high concentrations of the gas are certainly toxic, it has recently been shown that the low levels produced in the body act as potent neurotransmitters. Further, exposure to moderate concentrations of CO can be cytoprotective through a reduction in markers of inflammation and apoptosis. Current research on the therapeutic potential of CO aims to identify and develop the most effective method for delivering the gas to tissues that are at risk of injuries due to inflammation or apoptosis. Disease or injury models that have shown the most promise from the benefits of CO treatment involve conditions where tissues experience severe hypoxia due to a reduction in blood flow (ischemia), followed by rapid reperfusion of oxygenated blood (e.g., organ transplantation). While this field is making progress, a model organism that naturally produces higher concentrations of CO in a manner that confers cytoprotection is lacking. The aim of my research is to identify the diversity of CO concentrations, and other ‘gasotransmitters’ (e.g., nitric oxide and hydrogen sulfide), in wildlife species. Once we have identified those model species that naturally produce higher levels of certain gasotransmitters, we can start to understand how individuals regulate the production of gases and the physiological effects. In this seminar, I will discuss the physiological regulation and potential benefits of endogenous CO in deep-diving mammals and the parallels found in certain high-altitude human populations.


Faculty Host:  Martin Tresguerres (
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