José Manuel NievesSEGUIRMadrid Updated: Save Send news by mail electrónicoTu name *

Your email *

email *

What we have seen so many times in the film that even comes to seem somewhat normal. In the films of science fiction, in fact, it is common to see how the astronauts go into hibernation for, that way, crossing the vastness of space. In that state, the biological time is stopped, and the ship can travel for decades whole without its occupants become older, or a single day. In addition, the hibernation reduces considerably the consumption of food and oxygen by crews, as well as its muscle wasting in conditions of zero gravity. Finally, a state of unconsciousness, protracted during the space flight could also minimize the psychological problems experienced by astronauts. Although that, again, it is in the movies. But how can human beings actually get it to hibernate one day?

activated Cells

In Nature are abundant species that are able to enter in a state of suspended animation. Others, however, simply can’t. What are these differences? And above all, how have all the animals the potential of hibernate, even if you never make it in the Nature?

A team of researchers from the japanese University of Tsukuba have found part of the answers. In a new study, published in Nature, in effect, announce the discovery of specific cells in the brain of mice that can trigger a state similar to that of hibernation when they are activated. And the mice do not form part of the group of animals that hibernate in a natural way.

Those that do, however, come usually in a state of hibernation during the winter, when food is more scarce. As in the case of the bears, the metabolism slows and the body temperature drops to the minimum necessary to maintain active major vital signs, dramatically reducing the consumption of energy that the body needs. The heart rate also slows down, breathing more weak, and the brain activity is reduced to be at subsistence levels. The re-awakening, and this is important, the animals are perfectly healthy. Thinner, yes, but healthy.

And now back to the mice in the japanese experiment. Despite the fact that these animals do not hibernate naturally, the researchers, led by Takeshi Sakurai, University of Tsukuba, and Genshiro Sunagawa, of the center RIKEN for the Research of Dynamics of living Systems, have shown that the simple activation of a specific type of brain cells, called “neurons Q”, you can get the mice to come in, for several days, in a state much like hibernation.

“The mice -says Sakurai – exhibited distinctive qualities that met the criteria of hibernation. In particular, the set point of body temperature dropped from approximately 36 degrees to about 27, and the body worked normally to maintain lower temperatures of 22 degrees, even when we reduce drastically the ambient temperature”. The mice also exhibited all the signs of a reduced metabolism, which are common during hibernation, including low heart rate, low oxygen consumption, and slow breathing.

space Travel

For scientists, able to take the mice to this state is simply suggestive of how artificial neurons Q was something totally unexpected. “And even more surprising -ensures Tohru Takahashi, first author of the Nature article, is that we induce a state hipometabólico similar in a species that does not hibernate nor have clear periods of lethargy. Although we do not yet know the answer, the possibility that humans also have neurons Q which can be used to induce a similar response is tempting”.

“it Is very likely that people do not want to hibernate for the same reasons that the animals-explains Sunagawa-. But there are medical reasons for wanting to put people in suspended animation, such as during a transportation of an emergency or critical conditions such as severe pneumonia, when the oxygen supply is not sufficient to meet the demands of the organism.”

And then there is, of course, the question of space travel. “In the future -concludes Sakurai – we can put humans in a state of hibernation for missions to Mars and beyond.”