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98.6 Degrees F, It’s The Perfect Temperature

December 29, 2010

98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degree Celsius), that’s the number we all have learnt right since our childhood as the normal human body temperature, and anything above or below indicates that something is wrong with our body. This particular temperature (with slight fluctuations) is our normal temperature set point which our body tries to maintain. Fahrenheit initially designed the temperature scale with human body temperature as reference point and defined it to be 100°F, but later the reference point was changed to boiling point of water (100°C). Later in 1861, Carl Reinhold measured mean temperature of a healthy human body to be 98.6°F (or 37°C). Currently, most accurate number is 98.2°F (or 36.8°C) . Our brain regulates temperature of our body and keeps it regulated at the set point, which is very important for various chemical reactions to occur inside our body. Fever is defined as that state of body when the temperature set point is raised due to different causes while hyperthermia is defined as the state of body when temperature of the body increases without any increase in set point temperature (heat-stroke).

But why 98.6 degrees, why such a high temperature which is an energy intensive and costly affair. The answer lies in the cost and benefits of having high body temperature. Recent study by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have shown that per degree increase in body temperature reduces the number of fungi species which can infect the animal by about 6%. Thus by having high body temperatures, mammals have minimized the chances of getting infected and increased the survival rate at the cost of more energy intake. In a recent study, Dr. Casadevall  and Aviv Bergman have developed a simplistic first order mathematical model to estimate the optimum temperature considering the trade-off between metabolic costs incurred and benefits obtained in the form of increased resistance. The metabolic rate function is defined as B which is a function of body mass (m), while the benefit function is defined as F which is a function of rate of reduction in number of fungal species capable of infecting the animal (s~ 6% per degree rise in temperature based on earlier study).

Using these two functions, the fitness curve was plotted against body temperature and optimum T was found to be 36.7 °C or 98.06 °F!

You can access the full paper here.

Image credit: Flickr user Josh md | Used under creative commons license

Article and plot credit: Aviv Bergman and Arturo Casadevall: Mammalian Endothermy Optimally Restricts Fungi and Metabolic Costs, mBio 2010. doi:10.1128/mBio.00212-10

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