Arctic Ground Squirrel- The Great Hibernators

Hibernation is often described as a kind of sleep, a period of slowed metabolism and cooled body temperature. But there’s a lot about hibernation that remains a mystery, and a source of inspiration, to scientists. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

Brian Barnes is an Associate Professor of Zophysiology at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. He’s been studying the winter hibernation of the arctic ground squirrel — the animal whose calls we’re listening to right now.

“And what hibernation in this context means is facing a season when there’s not much food to be available, you’ll lower your body temperature and importantly with that, lower your metabolic rate and your requirement for eating. They drop into this very spare mode of living in which they can get by for seven, eight months just on the energy that they’ve stored on their bodies in the form of fat and protein…We’re interested in how it is that arctic ground squirrels have evolved this adaptation to be able to turn into essentially this suspended state of animation at sub-freezing temperatures and survive. They have hearts and kidneys and brains and livers just like we do, yet our tissues would not be able to maintain function if made that cold for very long, at least. But these hibernators have evolved the ability to do this at will. So if we were able to learn how they are able to maintain their organs, there’s clearly an application for preserving donor organs for humans, kidneys, hearts, lungs, that could be kept in a state of hibernation until they’re able to be matched with recipients.”

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Arctic Ground Squirrel- The Great Hibernators

Understanding more about how hibernation works may have some direct lessons for medical science.
Air Date:12/02/1998
Scientist:
Transcript:

Hibernation is often described as a kind of sleep, a period of slowed metabolism and cooled body temperature. But there's a lot about hibernation that remains a mystery, and a source of inspiration, to scientists. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

Brian Barnes is an Associate Professor of Zophysiology at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. He's been studying the winter hibernation of the arctic ground squirrel -- the animal whose calls we're listening to right now.

"And what hibernation in this context means is facing a season when there's not much food to be available, you'll lower your body temperature and importantly with that, lower your metabolic rate and your requirement for eating. They drop into this very spare mode of living in which they can get by for seven, eight months just on the energy that they've stored on their bodies in the form of fat and protein...We're interested in how it is that arctic ground squirrels have evolved this adaptation to be able to turn into essentially this suspended state of animation at sub-freezing temperatures and survive. They have hearts and kidneys and brains and livers just like we do, yet our tissues would not be able to maintain function if made that cold for very long, at least. But these hibernators have evolved the ability to do this at will. So if we were able to learn how they are able to maintain their organs, there's clearly an application for preserving donor organs for humans, kidneys, hearts, lungs, that could be kept in a state of hibernation until they're able to be matched with recipients."

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.