Could hibernation be used to help astronauts survive long voyages ? Image Credit: Rvb
Hibernating mammals like lemurs could play a role in helping mankind venture out on deep space missions.
The idea of using human hibernation - sometimes referred to as suspended animation - to help astronauts survive long trips through space is not a new one.
Back in the 1950s, NASA invested a significant amount of money in to biological research aimed at finding a way to put astronauts to sleep during long-haul voyages.
Not only would a hibernating crew require less food, water and oxygen but they would also be spared the psychological tedium and loneliness of spending years traveling through space.
"If we one day hope to visit another star system, even if we could travel at the speed of light, the journey would take years," said Ukranian neuroscientist Vladyslav Vyazovskiy.
"Being able to go into a state of long-term torpor would make such distances considerably less tedious for the astronauts and conserve vital resources."
The key to accomplishing this, Vyazovskiy believes, lies in understanding exactly how and why bears, lemurs and other creatures are able to hibernate for months at a time.
"The fact that large mammals such as bears and even primates, such as the fat-tailed dwarf lemur of Madagascar, can hibernate means that theoretically humans aren’t too big or energy-hungry to enter torpor," he said.
One possibility would be to induce hibernation in a human using freezing temperatures, but even if this could be achieved there would still exist a risk of brain or memory degradation.
"Research in animals such as bats shows that most memories are preserved even after many months in a state of almost complete neuronal depression," said Vyazovskiy.
Whether this advantage can be harnessed for use in humans however remains to be seen.
Source: Independent | Comments (9)