Carotid rete cools brain: Thomson's gazelle
The carotid rete of the Thomson's gazelle cools its brain via counter-current heat exchange.
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The brain is a part of the body that is particularly sensitive to high temperature. Hence some ungulates, like the Thomson’s gazelle, have evolved a counter-current heat exchanging structure known as the carotid rete, a configuration of blood vessels in the brain that can keep its temperature lower than body temperature. The blood flowing to the brain moves from the carotid artery into a network of small arteries within a large venous sinus or cavity filled with cooled blood returning from the nasal passages. The warm arterial blood gives up some of its heat to the cool venous blood and this lowers the temperature of the blood on its way to the brain. In the running Thomson’s gazelle, body temperature rises more than brain temperature such that a difference between brain and body temperature has been measured at 2.7° C. A predator like the cheetah must stop running when its body and brain temperature reaches 40.5° C but the gazelle can keep running as its body temperature rises above 43° without its brain temperature exceeding 40.5°. The ability to keep a cool head can thus give the gazelle a survival edge in these predatory pursuits as he can outlast the cheetah who cannot maintain a cooler brain.
Counter-current heat exchangers can be found in many organisms in many configurations. While such mechanisms are well known to engineers, a close look at the design of those used by nature may be useful in designing thermal control systems of human habitations. (Courtesy of The Biomimicry Institute)
Gazella thomsonii Günther, 1884
IUCN Red List Status: Near Threatened
Habitat(s): Grassland, Savanna
Some organism data provided by: ITIS: The Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist
Application Ideas: Use as model for heat exchange in construction of homes and other buildings. Cooling system for computer equipment.
Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Construction, manufacturing, medical