Arctic Squirrels Recycle Nutrients to Survive Winter

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Manage episode 285047603 series 2530089
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A study done by the University of Alaska Fairbanks found that Arctic ground squirrels recycle their bodies’ own nutrients to survive hibernation during winter. Scientists have always been fascinated by the squirrels’ hibernation habits. For as long as 8 months out of the year, Arctic ground squirrels hibernate. During hibernation, the animals almost completely shut down their bodies, forgoing food and water and only breathing once every minute. Despite their extreme hibernation, the squirrels are able to maintain their muscle mass and do not suffer from any long-term cellular damage. To understand how they survive, the researchers analyzed the body chemistry of hibernating Arctic ground squirrels. They observed the animals for two years in a laboratory setting. Findings showed that the squirrels’ muscles atrophied in above-freezing temperatures. As their muscles atrophied, the animals converted nitrogen, which was released as the muscles thinned down, into amino acids. These amino acids were used to create proteins that helped keep the lungs, kidneys, and muscles healthy. The findings confirm a theory formed from previous studies. The theory states that some hibernating animals recycle nutrients like nitrogen to survive during hibernation. The researchers suggest that learning more about hibernation could help scientists and doctors develop medical treatments for humans, like helping prevent muscle loss among the elderly and people with cancer. It could also help treat severe injuries and develop measures for astronauts to help prevent muscle loss during space missions.

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