Vitamin D is essential to a healthy lifestyle in humans. The role it plays in preventing an array of diseases can’t be understated. The importance of vitamin D in animals isn’t as well understood. Now a groundbreaking new study is shedding light on just how critical this vitamin is to their survival.

Killifish conundrum

Researchers at Portland State University set out to gain a better understanding of annual killifish embryos. Annual killifish live in seasonal ponds that only fill up when it rains. To survive in this harsh environment the annual killifish developed two unique embryos to ensure the survival of their offspring.

Portland State University

The first set of embryos develop naturally, while the others enter a state of suspended animation in order to survive without water or oxygen. Just how these embryos are able to survive several stages of dormancy has long puzzled scientists. Then came an astounding breakthrough.

Unexpected results

In order to crack the code of this evolutionary marvel, researchers set about testing embryos at various temperatures to try and induce dormancy. What they found surprised even them.


When analyzing the fishes’ RNA, researchers discovered that vitamin D was responsible for triggering stages of suspended animation. By activating vitamin D during testing, researchers were able to replicate natural development. Conversely, dormancy was achieved by preventing the production of vitamin D.

Impact on humans

Taking this new discovery a step further, researchers were able to successfully induce dormancy in the embryos of a number of animals that wouldn’t normally do so including fruit flies, roundworms and zebrafish. This new discovery could have a profound impact on humans as well.


The ability to induce suspended animation through vitamin D receptors can now help doctors better understand and treat such extreme physiological conditions such as a stroke, heart attack or even extreme shock. While more research is needed, this profound discovery shows once again just how vital vitamin D is to our overall health and well-being.