Could you have ever imagined, that the nocturnal pocket sized lemur from Madagascar, may hold a few hints for outer space travel? Researchers are peering closely at the lethargic behavior of the primate during hibernation, and feel that they may get a deeper insight into the link between long duration travel in space, and the negative effects of stroke, head trauma, heart attacks etc.
Space travel v/s lemur hibernation
It is an astonishing fact that this little western fat-tailed dwarf lemur may help in providing a clue in therapeutic effects of heart disorders, head injuries or strokes and the effect on humans traveling into space for long periods, say the researchers at Duke University.
The University has a well equipped sleep laboratory and a lemur center so the hibernation of the primate was a boon for the scientists. Their studies have helped discover that two more species of the lemur from Madagascar also hibernate to tide away the warm weather blues.
Did you know that in 2004, a German research team has named the Madagascar lemur as the “genetic cousin” of human beings? These small animals have held the interest of the scientists as they hibernate for a long time and show many similarities with the humans.
Dr. Andrew D. Krystal, director of the medical school’s sleep lab, was fascinated by these animals and couldn’t resist not finding the answers to the questions plaguing his mind “What happens to lemurs when they tamp down their metabolism to a state of torpor? What are their brain waves like? Do they sleep?” When no one could him research was the only option.
It’s a well known fact that proper sleep smoothlines the metabolism, regenerates tissues in the living beings but if one is sleep deprived then it can result in weight gain, insulin sensitivity, change of food habits, and hormonal upheavals. The main question was is sleep necessary in the hibernating lemurs.
The medical school’s psychiatrist spoke about this saying “It is the closest genetic relative to humans that hibernates and is therefore the most likely to be providing useful information to understanding things like what is the capacity to induce hibernation-like states in humans.”
According to Krystal “If we wanted to travel to some point in outer space that took 100 years, how could we possibly do it?” Krystal said. “We would have to induce a period of hibernation that would allow a person not to need to function for a period of time in order to get there and survive and return.”
A torpid state may highlight situations leading to a heart attack, as Krystal confirms “If you could drop the cellular demand for oxygen, you could then have somebody go in and open up that blockage and not have much damage to your heart,” He further stated “The same would be true of a stroke, or traumatic injury to a part of the body, particularly the brain, which is very sensitive to hypoxia.”
This “mammal hibernation on the head” fascinates the researchers as these primates are not the same as those hibernating in cold climates. These have a different hibernation pattern as they hibernate in warm climates, at this time these dwarf primates slip off into a REM sleep and suspend the temperature response.