How can a pig breathe through its rectum?

Japanese scientists have demonstrated through a study published in the journal Cell that mammals are able to breathe through their intestines, through experimentation on mice and pigs.

Pigs breathing from rectum helps fight against COVID-19

It may seem like a funny discovery, but leaving aside the humor this research is very useful for medical progress in treating patients with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Covid-19 has led scientists in new scientific research to innovate oxygenation techniques in patients with severe respiratory problems. Mechanical ventilation commonly used in hospitals involves pumping oxygen into the lungs. But in nature, there are other methods of breathing; among them, it was interesting to analyze rectal breathing, which can also be practiced by pigs and mice.

Identifying new methods of oxygenation, as an alternative to traditional ventilators, is fundamental to guarantee countries in precarious health conditions less expensive alternatives. In fact, following the pandemic, the price of mechanical ventilators skyrocketed, preventing poorer countries from having access to this type of equipment. Hospitals in these countries have seen less effective treatment of pneumonia and therefore higher mortality rates.

Pig respiration research helps fight covid-19 -Franco

Inspiring Scientists

The team of scientists from Tokyo Medical & Dental University said that the basis of their research, which hypothesized the possibility of breathing through the rectum, drew inspiration from some sea creatures. In fact, some types of catfish and sea cucumbers are able to absorb oxygen through their intestines.
Initially, experiments were done on mice because of the ease of use in the laboratory; later rectal respiration was applied to pigs.

Rectal respiration of pigs: how is it practiced?

The final part of the mammalian intestine is covered by a thin membrane able to absorb substances and introduce them into the bloodstream; the effectiveness of suppositories is precisely due to this peculiarity of the rectum.

The idea of the team of Japanese scientists was to give pigs with respiratory problems enemas containing a certain type of fluid called perfluorocarbon, containing high levels of oxygen.
The animals’ response to this experiment was satisfactory. Blood oxygenation increased significantly, promoting recovery of the organism.

Limitations of the study

However, the scientific experiment revealed some limitations. Indeed, the need for further investigation of the mechanisms of rectal oxygenation in both pigs and other mammals emerged, as they are still unclear. In addition, the study was limited to demonstrating the efficacy of perfluorocarbon in cases of respiratory failure similar to asphyxia. In the future, the researchers suggest directing investigations to cases of severe pneumonia with systemic inflammation of the respiratory system.

Pigs and humans : similarities that help science

The prestigious journal Nature, in 2013 published an article that illustrated the similarities between human and pig genetic heritage. In fact, we humans share many characteristics with pigs. For example, we are both omnivores and our internal organs are similar in size to pigs. However, they have a much more developed sense of smell and are able to eat foods that humans would normally reject due to a lower sensitivity to taste.

It is no coincidence then that science is focusing on the progress of research to analyze the possibility of transplanting the organs of pigs in people in need. They are called Xenotransplantation [from the Greek ξένος “foreigner, host”]. However, the risk of disease transmission from one species to another is high, so we still need further research to be able to implement this type of transplantation.

Pig breathe through rectum - Franco
Alessandro Azzolin
Alessandro Azzolin
Digital marketing intern, with interests in different cultures. My priority is the preservation of ecosystems.
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