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Do mammals, birds, reptiles and fish have similar nitrogen conserving systems?

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Department of Medicine, Queen's University, Etherington Hall, Ont., K7L 3N6, Kingston, Canada.


Comparative physiological studies are a powerful tool for revealing common animal adaptations. Amino acid catabolism produces ammonia which is detoxified through the synthesis of urea (mammals, some fish), uric acid (birds), or urea and uric acid (reptiles). In mammalian herbivores and omnivores, urea nitrogen is salvaged by a series of steps involving urea transfer into the intestine, microbial mediated urea hydrolysis with synthesis of amino acids utilizing the liberated ammonia and transfer of the amino acids back to the host. A similar series of steps occur in omnivorous/granivorous and herbivorous birds, although in this case urine, containing uric acid, is refluxed directly into the intestine where microbes degrade the uric acid and utilize the liberated ammonia for amino acid synthesis. These amino acids are transferred back to the host. In reptiles and ureotelic fish not all of these steps have been experimentally confirmed. Reptiles like birds, reflux urine into the intestine where it is exposed to the microflora. However, the capacity of these microbes to breakdown the uric acid and urea and utilize ammonia for amino acid synthesis has not been documented. Ureotelic fish transfer urea into the intestine where urease (presumably of bacterial origin) hydrolyzes the urea. However, the amino acid synthesizing capacity of the intestinal microflora has not been studied. The series of steps, as outlined, would define the prevailing nitrogen conservation system for herbivores and omnivores at least. However, it would appear that some animals, in particular the fruit-eating bat and perhaps the fruit-eating bird, may have evolved alternative, as yet uncharacterized, adaptations to a very limited nitrogen intake.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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