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Surprising Science

Suspended Animation

Suspended animation, where an animal’s metabolism is slowed to seeming death, is no longer the stuff of Star Trek, says scientist Mark Roth who is pioneering research into it.

“Usually when I mention suspended animation people will flash me the Vulcan sign and laugh,” remarks scientist Mark Roth. But he’s not referring to Star Trek. He’s completely serious about putting some organisms into suspended animation to help people survive medical trauma. Speaking at the TED2010 conference in Long Beach, California, Roth described the idea behind the research which chemically lowers animals’ metabolic rates to the point where they show no sign of life. The researchers were then able, he says, to restore the animals back to health with no apparent ill effects. The Web site of Roth’s laboratory at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, describes the research this way: “We use the term suspended animation to refer to a state where all observable life processes (using high resolution light microscopy) are stopped: The animals do not move nor breathe and the heart does not beat. We have found that we are able to put a number of animals (yeast, nematodes, drosophila, frogs and zebrafish) into a state of suspended animation for up to 24 hours through one basic technique: reducing the concentration of oxygen.”


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