Mimicking bears' hibernation patterns could help man in deep space travel

Washington, Feb 18 (ANI): A new study has found that black bears have some astonishing hibernation capabilities that could become relevant for humans travelling in space.

Experts said that if the human race ever had to leave Earth, it might be necessary to induce a bear-like hibernation in order to make the trip into deep space possible.

Researchers at University of Alaska Fairbanks found that American black bears, captured by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, only reduce their body temperatures slightly during hibernation, their metabolic activity drops dramatically, slowing to about 25 percent of their normal, active rates.

The bears spend five to seven months without eating, drinking, urinating or defecating before they emerge from their dens in nearly the same physiological condition they were in when they entered them.

"We knew that bears decreased their body temperatures to some degree during hibernation, but in Alaska we found that these black bears regulate their core temperature in variable cycles over a period of many days, which is not seen in smaller hibernators and which we are not aware has been seen in mammals at all before," said Øivind Tøien.

Once the core temperatures dropped to about 30 degrees Celsius, they were observed to shiver until their temperatures reached about 36 degrees Celsius.

Then the bears reduced shivering until their body temperature again fell to about 30 degrees Celsius, and the cycle began again.

Post hibernation, the bears did not return to their active metabolic activity for two to three full weeks, the team found.

"If our research could help by showing how to reduce metabolic rates and oxygen demands in human tissues, one could possibly save people," Tøien said.

"We simply need to learn how to turn things on and off to induce states that take advantage of the different levels of hibernation."

"When black bears emerge from hibernation in spring, it has been shown that they have not suffered the losses in muscle and bone mass and function that would be expected to occur in humans over such a long time of immobility and disuse," continued Brian Barnes, the senior author of the study.

He added that discovering the genetic and molecular basis for this protection, and for the mechanisms that underlie the reduction in metabolic demand could help experts apply them in a wide range of disciplines.

Their study will appear in the 18 February issue of Science. (ANI)

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