Myoglobin production in emperor penguins

Ponganis, PJ, Welch TJ, Welch LS, Stockard TK.  2010.  Myoglobin production in emperor penguins. Journal of Experimental Biology. 213:1901-1906.

Date Published:



blood, blood volume, chicks, cold-acclimated ducklings, diving capacity, emperor penguin, gene-expression, messenger-rna, mRNA, muscle oxygen stores, myoglobin, sea-ice, skeletal-muscle, thermogenesis


Increased oxygen storage is essential to the diving capacities of marine mammals and seabirds. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying this adaptation are unknown. Myoglobin (Mb) and Mb mRNA concentrations were analyzed in emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) adults and chicks with spectrophotometric and RNase protection assays to evaluate production of their large Mb-bound O(2) stores. Mean pectoral Mb concentration and Mb mRNA content increased throughout the pre-fledging period and were 15-fold and 3-fold greater, respectively, in adults than in 3.5 month old chicks. Mean Mb concentration in 5.9 month old juveniles was 2.7 +/- 0.4 g 100 g(-1) muscle (44% that of wild adults), and in adults that had been captive all their lives it was 3.7 +/- 0.1 g 100 g(-1) muscle. The Mb and Mb mRNA data are consistent with regulation of Mb production at the level of transcription as in other animals. Significant Mb and Mb mRNA production occurred in chicks and young juveniles even without any diving activity. The further increase in adult Mb concentrations appears to require the exercise/hypoxia of diving because Mb concentration in captive, non-diving adults only reached 60% of that of wild adults. The much greater relative increase in Mb concentration than in Mb mRNA content between young chicks and adults suggests that there is not a simple 1:1 relationship between Mb mRNA content and Mb concentration. Nutritional limitation in young chicks and post-transcriptional regulation of Mb concentration may also be involved.