Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Evening Edition

What San Diego Scientists Are Discovering About Dolphins And Diabetes

What San Diego Scientists Are Discovering About Dolphins And Diabetes

Dolphins may hold the key to understanding how to prevent diabetes in humans, according to a study published this week in the journal PLOS One.

Researchers from the National Marine Mammal Foundation in Point Loma found that an increase in a saturated fat called heptadecanoic acid, or C-17, can reverse metabolic syndrome in dolphins. Metabolic syndrome is known as prediabetes in humans.

Dolphins have been increasingly recognized as a meaningful comparison population for humans especially in the area of sugar metabolism, said veterinarian Stephanie Venn-Watson, director of the translational medicine and research program at the National Marine Mammal Foundation and lead author of the study.


C-17 can be found in fish like mullet, butter and whole-fat milk and yogurt. Venn-Watson's team is looking for a link between people eating more non-fat milk and yogurt, which have no C-17, and a drop in insulin-lowering fatty acid in their blood.

This may be contributing to a global rise in diabetes, which affects nine percent of adults worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Previous research by the National Marine Mammal Foundation discovered that dolphins could switch back and forth between a diabetic and non-diabetic state. That lead Venn-Watson's team to look what part of a dolphin's diet may protect against metabolic syndrome.

"This study is feeding into a growing body of science that’s showing that dietary cholesterol and fats are not bad for you as previously thought," Venn-Watson said.

The National Marine Mammal Foundation is collaborating with children’s hospitals to see if children with prediabetes have lower levels of C-17 in their blood when compared to healthy kids. If they do, Venn-Watson said they will look at whether adding foods with C-17 into their diet improves their health.