Phenotypic flexibility of digestive system in Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua)

Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2007 Feb;146(2):174-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2006.10.012. Epub 2006 Oct 13.


This study examined the restoration of the digestive capacity of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua Linnaeus) following a long period of food deprivation. Fifty cod (48 cm, 1 kg) were food-deprived for 68 days and then fed in excess with capelin (Mallotus villosus Müller) on alternate days. Ten fish were sampled after 0, 2, 6, 14 and 28 days and the mass of the pyloric caeca, intestine and carcass determined. Two metabolic enzymes (cytochrome c oxidase and citrate synthase) were assayed in white muscle, pyloric caeca and intestine, and trypsin activity was measured in the pyloric caeca. A delay of 14 days was required before body mass started to increase markedly, whereas most of the increase in mass of both the pyloric caeca and intestine relative to fish length occurred earlier in the experiment. By day 14, the activities of trypsin and citrate synthase in the pyloric caeca as well as citrate synthase in the intestine had reached maxima. The growth of the digestive tissues and restoration of their metabolic capacities thus occur early upon refeeding and are likely required for recovery growth to take place. The phenotypic flexibility of the cod digestive system is therefore remarkable: increases in trypsin activity and size of pyloric caeca resulted in a combined 29-fold increase in digestive capacity of the fish during the refeeding period. Our study suggests that Atlantic cod are able to cope with marked fluctuations in food availability in their environment by making a rapid adjustment of their digestive capacity as soon as food availability increases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • Citrate (si)-Synthase / metabolism
  • Digestion / physiology*
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / metabolism
  • Food Deprivation / physiology*
  • Gadus morhua / growth & development*
  • Gadus morhua / physiology*
  • Intestines / enzymology
  • Phenotype
  • Pylorus / enzymology
  • Trypsin / metabolism


  • Electron Transport Complex IV
  • Citrate (si)-Synthase
  • Trypsin