Thursday, April 11, 2013

Could it be possible for humans to freeze solid and survive?

An article in the LA Times discusses the ability for the western painted turtle to freeze solid and survive. How does this relate to humans? Well, what researchers were able to discover is that humans share the same genes as this type of turtle. The adult western painted turtle is able to survive without oxygen for up to 30 hours at room temperature and if the temperature happens to drop to 37 degrees, the turtle can hold it's breath for four months each time this occurs.

Researchers started this project several years ago with intent to figure out which specific genes allow for these turtles to freeze without damage to their body or brain. One discovery they made is that the turtle's genome is not that much different than human's. The original paper that was published in Genome Biology journal resulted in researchers finding that the genes these turtles are using for the tolerance during freezing were present in all vertebrates. The only difference is that the western painted turtle expresses these genes in a specific way.

These scientists discovered 19 genes in the brain and 23 in the heart that became more active when the turtle had low-oxygen intake. A gene that humans share with this turtle became 130 times more active. Human health and well-being can benefit if further studies are done on the painted turtle's genome. Problems experienced like loss of oxygen, hypothermia, and longevity will be specifically addressed to see if anything can be done to relieve these issues.

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