Biology & Marine Biology

Faculty & Staff

MTift01.jpgMichael S. Tift, Assistant Professor

Ph.D., Marine Biology, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC – San Diego, CA, 2016
M.S., Biology – Physiology, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA, 2011
B.S., Biology – Physiology, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA, 2009
Center for Marine Science 2238 | (910) 962-2777
5600 Marvin K. Moss Lane, Wilmington, NC 28403-5928 |

 Research Interests:

The primary focus of my research is on physiological adaptations to extreme conditions. As a comparative physiologist, my goal is to integrate the knowledge gained from these unique systems to advance our understanding of human and animal physiology. Currently, I am focusing on physiological mechanisms that allow certain model systems to tolerate hypoxia and ischemia. This includes work with human populations at high altitude and some of the deepest air-breathing divers in the ocean. 

One specific area of interest has been the beneficial aspects of endogenous carbon monoxide (CO) production in these systems. Carbon monoxide has the reputation of only being a toxic and deadly gas (a.k.a. ‘The silent killer’). However, CO is also naturally produced in virtually all bacteria, plants, and animals from the natural breakdown of the heme, found in proteins such as hemoglobin and cytochromes. Recently, it has been found that low concentrations of CO exposure can protect tissues from certain injuries (inflammation, apoptosis) associated with conditions such as chronic hypoxia and ischemia-reperfusion injuries.

My work has recently shown that some deep-diving species and high altitude human populations with elevated hemoglobin concentrations produce and maintain CO at higher levels that resemble those in cigarette smokers. Although these levels are high, it appears that they also potentially help the animals avoid injuries associated with diving and could even assist in oxygen transport to tissues.

  1. Tift, M.S., Alves de Souza, R.W., Weber, J., Heinrich, E.C., Villafuerte, F.C., Malhotra, A., Otterbein, L.E., Simonson, T.S. 2020. Adaptive Potential of the Heme Oxygenase/Carbon Monoxide Pathway During Hypoxia. Frontiers in Physiology.

  2. McDonald, B.I., Tift, M.S., Hückstädt, L.A., Jeffko, M., and P.J. Ponganis. 2020. Stroke effort and relative lung volume influence heart rate in diving sea lions. Journal of Experimental Biology. 223, (5), jeb214163 doi: 10.1242.

  3. Tift M.S., Ponganis P.J. (2019). Time Domains of Hypoxia Adaptation-Elephant Seals Stand Out Among Divers. Frontiers in Physiology.

  4. Bickett N.J., Tift M.S., St. Leger J., Ponganis P.J. (2019). Heart Rates, Heart Rate Profiles, and Electrocardiograms in Three Killer Whales, a Beluga, and a Pilot Whale: An Exploratory Investigation. Marine Mammal Science.

  5. Adachi T., Huckstadt L.A., Tift M.S., Costa D.P., Naito Y., Takahasi A. (2019). Inferring prey size variation from mandible acceleration in northern elephant seals. Marine Mammal Science. DOI: 10.1111/mms.12571.

  6. Hückstädt L.A., Holser R.R., Tift M.S., Costa D.P. (2018) The extra burden of motherhood: Reduced dive duration associated with pregnancy status in a deep-diving mammal, the northern elephant seal. Biology Letters. 14: 20170722.

  7. Tift M.S., Hückstädt L.A., Ponganis P.J. (2018) Anterior vena caval oxygen profiles in a deep-diving California sea lion: arteriovenous shunts, a central venous oxygen store, and oxygenation during lung collapse. Journal of Experimental Biology, doi: 10.1242/jeb.163428.

  8. Jelincic J.A., Tift M.S., Houser D.S., Crocker D.E. (2017) Variation in adrenal and thyroid hormones with life-history stage in juvenile northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris). General and Comparative Endocrinology, 252 (1), 111-118.

  9. Ponganis P.J., McDonald B.I., Tift M.S., Gonzalez S.C., DaValle B., Gliniecki R.A., Stehman C.C., Hauff N., Ruddick B., Howard R. (2017) Effects of Inhalational Anesthesia on Blood Gases and pH in California Sea Lions. Marine Mammal Science. 33 (3), 726-737.

  10. Ponganis P.J., McDonald B.I., Tift M.S., Williams C.L. (2017). Heart rate regulation in diving sea lions: the vagus nerve rules. Journal of Experimental Biology. 220, 1372-1381

  11. Tift M.S., Hückstädt L.A., McDonald B.I., Thorson P.H., Ponganis P.J. (2017) Flipper stroke rate and venous oxygen levels in free-ranging California sea lions. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 220 (8), 1533-1540.

  12. Hückstädt L.A., Tift M.S., Riet-Sapriza F.G., Franco-Trecu V., Baylis A.M.M., Orben R.A., Arnould J.P.Y., Sepulveda M., Santos M., Burns J.M., Costa D.P. (2016) Regional variability in diving physiology and behavior in a widely distributed air-breathing marine predator, the South American sea lion (Otaria byronia). The Journal of Experimental Biology, 219 (15), jeb.138677.

  13. Champagne C.D., Tift M.S., Houser D.S., Crocker D.E. (2015) Adrenal sensitivity to stress is maintained despite variation in baseline glucocorticoids in moulting seals. Conservation Physiology, 3 (1), cov004.

  14. Louis C., Tift M.S., Crocker D.E., Alexander D., Smith D.R., Debier, C. (2014) Isolation of progenitor cells from the blubber of northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) in order to obtain an in vitro adipocyte model. Marine Mammal Science, 31 (2), 764-773.

  15. Tift M.S., Ponganis P.J., Crocker D.E. (2014) Elevated carboxyhemoglobin in a marine mammal, the northern elephant seal. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 217 (10), 1752-1757.

  16. Spraker T.R., Lyons E.T., Kuzmina T.A., Tift M.S., Raverty S., Jaggi N. (2014). Causes of death in preweaned northern elephant seal pups (Mirounga angustirostris, Gill, 1866), Ano Nuevo State Reserve, California 2012. Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation, 26 (2), 320-326.

  17. Tift M.S., Ranalli E.C., Houser D.S., Ortiz R.M., Crocker D.E. Development enhances hypometabolism and the dive response in northern elephant seal pups (Mirounga angustirostris). (2013). Functional Ecology, 27 (5), 1155-1165.

  18. Viscarra J.A., Rodriguez R., Vazquez-Medina J.P., Lee A., Tift M.S., Tavoni S.K., Crocker D.E., Ortiz R.M. (2013). Insulin and GLP-1 infusions demonstrate the onset of adipose-specific insulin resistance in a large fasting mammal: potential glucogenic role for GLP-1. Physiological Reports, 1, e00023.

  19. Currylow A.F., Tift M.S., Meyer J.L., Crocker D.E. and Williams R.N. (2012) Seasonal variations in plasma vitellogenin and sex steroids in male and female Eastern Box Turtles, (Terrapene carolina carolina). General and Comparative Endocrinology 180, 48-55.

  20. Houser D.S., Crocker D.E, Tift M.S and Champagne C.D. (2012) Glucose oxidation and non-oxidative glucose disposal during prolonged fasts of the northern elephant seal pup (Mirounga angustirostris). American Journal of Physiology- Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. 303 (5), R562-R570.

  21. Kelso E.J., Champagne C.D, Tift M.S, Houser D.S. and Crocker D.E. (2012). Sex differences in fuel use and metabolism during development in fasting juvenile northern elephant seals. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 215 (15), 2637-2645.

  22. Lyons E.T., Kuzmina T., Spraker T.R., Jaggi N., Costa D.P., Crocker D.E., and Tift M.S. (2012) Parasitological examination for presence of hookworms (Uncinaria spp.) in northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) at Año Nuevo State Reserve, California. Parasitology Research. 111 (4), 1847-1850.

  23. Vázquez-Medina J.P., Zenteno-Savín T., Tift, M.S, Forman H.J., Crocker D.E., and Ortiz R.M. (2011) Apnea stimulates the adaptive response to oxidative stress in elephant seal pups. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 214 (24), 4193-4200.

  24. Tift M.S., Houser D.S., Crocker D.E. (2011) High-density lipoprotein remains elevated despite reductions in total cholesterol in fasting adult male elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris). Journal of Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology B. 159 (4), 214-219.