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Avian Athletes

February 6, 2015

Scientists are learning from birds’ amazing metabolisms to help human athletes perform better on the ground.



Ferran Pestaña Black-tailed godwits

Black-tailed godwits are long-distance migrants that can reach high altitudes. (Ferran Pestaña/flickr)

Avian athletes. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The world’s greatest Olympic athletes are no match for migratory birds, according to University of Bangor biologist Charles Bishop.

CHARLES BISHOP (University of Bangor):

Birds can outperform us athletically, and one of the reasons is that the average bird has a heart that’s twice the size of an average mammal.


That means they can pump more oxygen to their blood, a boon when flying at high altitudes. He says runners in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics were slowed down by its lofty elevation, but many birds adjust right away. And unlike us, they don’t need to train.


They just go on fly for hours at a time, days at a time in some cases. Now people are understanding the genes involved in muscle fitness, that in fact, just like these animals, it would be possible to target those genes.


…so that human athletes could train less and cope in extreme conditions more like birds do. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.



Story by Susanne Bard