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Suspended Animation Works in Lab (With Nematodes)

Suspended animation has been a science fiction staple for more than 100 years. Recent research done in a Seattle cancer lab shows that it is possible to put nematode embryos in a state of suspended animation for a few hours with no apparent ill effects.


(Updated Anoxia-induced suspended animation)

Yeasts and worms, like humans, will normally simply die if they are chilled down past a certain point. But Roth and his colleagues have found that if the little creatures are starved of oxygen before turning on the cold, they will go into suspended animation from which they recover on warming and go on to live normal yeasty or wormy lives.

"We wondered if what was happening with the organisms in my laboratory was also happening in people like the toddler and the Japanese mountain climber," says Roth. "Before they got cold did they somehow manage to decrease their oxygen consumption? Is that what protected them? Our work in nematodes and yeast suggests that this may be the case, and it may bring us a step closer to understanding what happens to people who appear to freeze to death but can be reanimated."

The intent of the research is to develop ways to temporarily slow down or stop the metabolic processes of an injured person to improve their chances of survival.

There were a number of early mentions of the idea of freezing a person for a journey through time. For example, in Louis Boussenard's Dix mille ans dans un bloc de glace (1889; translated as 10,000 Years in a Block of Ice, 1898), the "deep sleep" actually resembled a primitive form of cryonic suspension. H.G. Wells created the first machine for suspended animation, in When the Sleeper Awakes (1898), to freeze his travelers time travel. Philip Francis Nowlan sends Buck Rogers to the 25th century in "Armageddon 2419" (Amazing, 1928) by putting him in a frozen or suspended state.

In the more modern era of sf, we recall the cold sleep used in Robert Heinlein's Methuselah's Children:

They put up with it only long enough to rig for cold-sleep... Somnolents require only about one percent the living room required by active, functioning humans...

Biomechanicians have worked out complex empirical formulas describing body deterioration and the measures that must be taken to offset under various conditions of impressed acceleration, ambient temperature, drugs used, and other factors such as metabolic age, body mass, sex and so on...

Suspend your animated web surfing, and read these hibernation links:

See also the frigorific process from the 1879 story The Senator's Daughter, by Edward Page Mitchell.

From MBOC and The Register.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/14/2010)

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