Pigs and Rodents Can Breathe By Their Anuses

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You have probably heard the phrase: when pigs can fly. Well, pigs can’t fly yet, but according to a new study they can breathe through their butts.

Rodents and pigs have the ability to use their intestines to breathe, according to a study published in the journal With.

“Artificial respiratory assistance plays a critical role in the clinical management of respiratory failure due to serious illnesses such as pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome,” said lead study author Takanori Takebe of Tokyo Medical and Dental University and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in a press release.

“While the side effects and safety in humans need to be carefully investigated, our approach could offer a new paradigm to support critically ill patients with respiratory failure.”

The researchers tested the ability of these animals to breathe through their anus by developing an intestinal gas ventilation system that delivers pure oxygen through the rectum of mice. Their study showed that no mice survived 11 minutes of extremely low-oxygen conditions without the system.

However, with intestinal gas ventilation, 75% of the mice survived 50 minutes in normally lethal, low oxygen conditions. Now the scientists hope that their new system could be applied to humans, especially during the pandemic.

“The recent SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is overwhelming the clinical need for ventilators and artificial lungs, creating a critical shortage of available equipment and putting the lives of patients worldwide at risk,” Takebe said.

“The level of arterial oxygenation provided by our ventilation system, when scaled for human use, is likely to be sufficient to treat patients with severe respiratory failure and potentially provide life-saving oxygenation.”

Of course, the human respiratory system is far more complex than that of a rodent or a pig. It’s also unclear how the researchers intend to apply it to humans. Will they literally introduce oxygen through the anus? We can imagine that this is not an approach that people are happy to adopt. Still, the next time someone decides to ask what animals can breathe out of their assholes, research is at least a fun fact.