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Give bacterial diversity a chance: The antibiotic dichotomy


Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the computer my soul to keep

Radiation is the boring hazard of space travel. No one dies in a space horror movie because they’ve been slowly exposed to too much cosmic radiation. It’s always “thrown out the airlock” this and “eaten by a xenomorph” that.

Michael Chiara/Unsplash

Radiation, however, is not something that can be ignored, but it turns out that a potential solution is another science fiction staple: artificial hibernation. Generally in sci-fi, hibernation is a plot convenience to get people from point A to point B in a ship that doesn’t break the laws of physics. Here on Earth, though, it is well known that animals naturally entering a state of torpor during hibernation gain significant resistance to radiation.

The problem, of course, is that humans don’t hibernate, and no matter how hard people who work 100-hour weeks for Elon Musk try, sleeping for months on end is simply something we can’t do. However, a new study shows that it’s possible to induce this torpor state in animals that don’t naturally hibernate. By injecting rats with adenosine 5’-monophosphate monohydrate and keeping them in a room held at 16° C, an international team of scientists successfully induced a synthetic torpor state.

That’s not all they did: The scientists also exposed the hibernating rats to a large dose of radiation approximating that found in deep space. Which isn’t something we’d like to explain to our significant other when we got home from work. “So how was your day?” “Oh, I irradiated a bunch of sleeping rats. … Don’t worry they’re fine!” Which they were. Thanks to the hypoxic and hypothermic state, the tissue was spared damage from the high-energy ion radiation.

Obviously, there’s a big difference between a rat and a human and a lot of work to be done, but the study does show that artificial hibernation is possible. Perhaps one day we’ll be able to fall asleep and wake up light-years away under an alien sky, and we won’t be horrifically mutated or riddled with cancer. If, however, you find yourself in hibernation on your way to Jupiter (or Saturn) to investigate a mysterious black monolith, we suggest sleeping with one eye open and gripping your pillow tight.


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