B1 deficiency in animals is more widespread than previously believed

Thiamine, better known as vitamin B1, is crucial for living organisms. However, much like humans nowadays, many animals are lacking this vitamin. Only bacteria, fungi, and plants can synthesize it and so animals have to get it through diet. Now a new study revealed that thiamine deficiency in wildlife is much more common than was previously believed.

It may be hard to believe, but many wild animals are lacking vitamin B1 too. Image credit: Andreas Eichler via , CC BY-SA 4.0

B1 vitamin is needed for animals because of it role of a cofactor for several life sustaining enzymes. It is important for a healthy function of animal nervous, immune and reproductive systems. Scientists did know about thiamine deficiency in nature, but it was believed it is only common in some areas. Now a much wider research has been conducted, involving blue mussels, common eiders, American and European eels, Atlantic salmon, and sea trout from 45 areas in the Northern Hemisphere. Scientists confirmed thiamine deficiency in all of these animals. Symptoms of B1 deficiency appear in an area for some time, then disappear, but may come back some time later.

What are these effects? Although for accuracy scientists collected biological samples, some symptoms can be very easily noticed, for example, reduced growth. Other symptoms are: altered organ size, behaviour, blood chemistry, nutritional status and swimming endurance. They also face different reproductive challenges. None of these effects are actually fatal. However, they do damage population and can cause it to shrink. Scientists did know about these effects even before this research was conducted because of some laboratory testing, but now they were able to see how wide this problem actually is.

This research revealed that B1 deficiency is far more common that was previously believed. It is widespread across the Pacific Ocean, North America, the Atlantic Ocean, and northern Europe. Lennart Balk, coordinator of the study, said: “Currently, we cannot exclude that the observed thiamine deficiency is so serious that it significantly contributes to the ongoing worldwide extinction of many animal species. Others have pinpointed this loss of biological diversity as the most serious of all threats to life on earth today”.

Researchers are going to continue their study. Their ultimate goal is to find the cause of the thiamine deficiency. Having this knowledge could pave the way to healthier wildlife animal populations across the globe.