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Learning from bears how to survive inactivity


Hibernation is physiologically remarkable:

A grizzly bear only knows three seasons during the year. Its time of activity starts between March and May. Around September the bear begins to eat large quantities of food. And sometime between November and January, it falls into hibernation. From a physiological point of view, this is the strangest time of all. The bear’s metabolism and heart rate drop rapidly. It excretes neither urine nor feces. The amount of nitrogen in the blood increases drastically and the bear becomes resistant to the hormone insulin.

A person could hardly survive this four-month phase in a healthy state. Afterwards, he or she would most likely have to cope with thromboses or psychological changes. Above all, the muscles would suffer from this prolonged period of disuse. Anyone who has ever had an arm or leg in a cast for a few weeks or has had to lie in bed for a long time due to an illness has probably experienced this.

Not so the grizzly bear. In the spring, the bear wakes up from hibernation, perhaps still a bit sluggish at first, but otherwise well. Many scientists have long been interested in the bear’s strategies for adapting to its three seasons…

“Muscle atrophy is a real human problem that occurs in many circumstances. We are still not very good at preventing it,” says the lead author of the study, Dr. Douaa Mugahid, once a member of Gotthardt’s research group and now a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Professor Marc Kirschner of the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

“For me, the beauty of our work was to learn how nature has perfected a way to maintain muscle functions under the difficult conditions of hibernation,” says Mugahid. “If we can better understand these strategies, we will be able to develop novel and non-intuitive methods to better prevent and treat muscle atrophy in patients.”

Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association, “Learning from the bears” at ScienceDaily

It’s remarkable that “nature” has “perfected” all this even though nature is mindless and the bear is not very smart. Yet people actually believe there is no design in nature.

It would be great if we could learn how to do this in humans. It could be very useful for long space voyages; reducing the "life support" needs over months, not to mention boredom. Suspended animation is a common theme of science fiction. Pseudo-hibernation would get us part way there. Amazing what "nature" has devised to inspire and direct us in our curiosity and exploration. Fasteddious

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