Male penguins suppress stomach bacteria to conserve food for chicks

February 24, 2003

Brussels, 21 Feb 2003

French scientists have discovered that male king penguins are able to conserve food in their stomach for several weeks during their incubation fast.

Samples from seven male penguins incubating eggs and conserving food showed many more dead or non-viable bacteria, implying that the penguins are able to keep food fresh for their chicks by destroying their own stomach bacteria.

Cécile Thouzeau, who headed the research team from France's national research centre (CNRS), is reported in the journal 'New Scientist' as saying that the tests showed that the penguins' stomach temperatures and pH were ideal for bacterial growth. Ms Thouzeau believes that the penguins could be suppressing the bacteria with acrylic acid, an antibacterial compound from phytoplankton, which is found in the stomachs of the penguins' prey.

The researchers say that the birds appear to be able to control the preservation process, suggesting that they actively release one or more bacterial agents.

The male penguins store food to give to the chicks when the females return late from a fishing expedition.

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CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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