Alicia Alonso


Education: Bachelor of Science in animal sciences and industry (December 2020)

McNair Project: Carnivore Carbohydrate Metabolism (2020)

Mentors: Thomas Schermerhorn, V.M.D., D.A.C.V.I.M. (S.A.I.M), and Sara Gardhouse, D.V.M., D.A.C.Z.M.

Despite their ecological importance, much remains to be learned about carnivore species. Learning and understanding the carbohydrate component of felid metabolism will display numerous evolutionary adaptations that make them uniquely suited for their ecological roles as predators. Knowledge of the spectrum of behavioral, anatomical, and physiological adaptations in carnivores is incomplete. The project will focus on carbohydrate metabolism in wild felids and other carnivore species. Members of the family Felidae are strict carnivores that rely on nutrients in animal tissues to meet their specific and unique nutritional requirements. In the natural habitat of Felidae, they consume prey high in protein with moderate amounts of fat and minimum amounts of carbohydrates (CHO). This means that felids are metabolically adapted for higher metabolism of proteins and lower utilization of carbohydrates. Like the human body, the cells in a felid’s body need sugar in the form of glucose for energy. However, glucose in the blood requires insulin to give access to the cells. Felids cannot synthesize glucose. For glucose to be used by a cell, it must enter the cell and be phosphorylated. If dietary carbohydrate intake is low, gluconeogenesis happens. Gluconeogenesis is the production of new glucose in the body from non-sugar sources, mainly proteins. In most species, glucokinase is the enzyme responsible for this function after a meal. Lacking glucokinase activity, felids rely on other enzymes, including hexokinase. Hexokinase is less efficient than glucokinase when glucose concentrations are high, but felids have more hexokinase, as well as greater phosphofructokinase and pyruvate kinase enzyme activities. Glucokinase controls the rate of entry of glucose into the glycolytic pathway.