Sunday, January 29

Success for the man in space is in the hibernation of squirrels | Digital Trends Spanish


An investigation carried out by a biologist from the University of Montreal unraveled how the hibernation mechanism of a species of squirrels works, and which, according to its author, could be the key to the success of long-term space travel.

Biologist Matthew Regan explains that 13-banded ground squirrels, a common variety in North America, are able to come out of hibernation without muscle loss.

ANKARA, TURKIYE – JANUARY 23: A squirrel is seen in a snow covered park in Ankara, Turkiye on January 23, 2022. (Photo by Ercin Erturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Since the 1980s, some biologists have theorized that this ability is possible through a process known as “urea nitrogen salvage,” which involves the recovery of nitrogen excreted in the urine for the construction of new proteins.

Regan set out to unravel the ins and outs of this theory, making observations on several squirrels at different points in their hibernation process.

In a statement published by the University of MontrealRegan details that nitrogen is recovered by squirrels in urea, a residual product of metabolism.

To track how squirrels recycle urea nitrogen, Regan put markers on the urea nitrogen and carbon atoms in a control group of squirrels.

Observing the process, he found that the breakdown and recycling of urea takes place in the intestine, from where nitrogen is incorporated into the proteins of muscle tissues.

The biologist noted that the key is the chipmunks’ gut microbiome. In the statement he explains that the urea nitrogen recycling process was performed in squirrels with and without the gut microbiome. Those without microbes showed no signs of urea nitrogen recovery.

“By facilitating muscle protein synthesis at the end of the hibernation season, it appears that rescuing urea nitrogen helps optimize the squirrels’ muscle functions, thereby contributing to their reproductive success at the end of their hibernation season,” Regan said in their conclusions.

The specialist said that the urea nitrogen rescue process could be used as a strategy to maintain the muscle mass of humans in space travel.

“Muscle proteins are suppressed in spaceflight, so urea nitrogen salvage may be beneficial for muscle health in spaceflight,” he added.

Since the success of the muscle recovery process in squirrels relies on the bacteria breaking down urea, Regan says an alternative may be taking a probiotic pill.

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