Thursday, April 21, 2005
Talk about dual-use technology: scientists in Seattle may have discovered the key to suspended animation, and you can also use it to make stink bombs:
Suspended animation has been deliberately induced in a species of mouse which does not naturally hibernate. It is the first time such a feat has been achieved, say the procedure’s pioneers.
If a similar response could be triggered in humans, there would be major healthcare benefits and the futuristic idea of putting astronauts into suspended animation on long-haul space flights could move a step closer to reality.
The mice were induced to fall into their deep sleep after being exposed to hydrogen sulphide - the gas which gives rotten eggs and stink bombs their characteristic foul odour. The animals later revived in ordinary air.
Mark Roth, head of the team which pioneered the procedure at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, US, explains that hydrogen sulphide all but shuts down the body’s usual demand for the oxygen it needs to keep cells ticking over. Usually, cells denied oxygen - after a heart attack or stroke, for example - die quickly.
But hydrogen sulphide instead sends cells into a state of dormancy. “You’re shutting down the cellular hunger for oxygen,” says Roth, delaying the cells’ oxygen-starvation and buying time for medical treatment . . . .
High levels of hydrogen sulphide have been known to kill people working in sewers and petrochemical plants. But research on rodents showed that certain low levels appeared to kill the animals, only for them to recover later. Roth notes that a similar “Lazarus effect” has been witnessed in patients pronounced dead after exposure to extreme cold.