Does suspended animation mean anything to you?What do you think about doctors sending you into a state of somewhere between life and death to eventually save you?
Well, doctors at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania will begin to send patients into suspended animation to prevent blood loss that too often leads to preventable death in surgery.
New Scientist reported that the surgeons will use emergency preservation and resuscitation, as they call it, to rapidly cool a patient’s body to stop basically all cellular activity. They call it “emergency preservation and resuscitation,” not suspended animation because the latter is too “science fiction,” but nothing we have a problem with here at Serious Wonder.
The saline solution replaces the patient’s blood to induce hypothermia so that surgeons may repair wounds without trying to stop blood loss at the same time.
Now, does any of this make you think about the definitions of certain things? Like life, death, and what the difference is between the two?
If we have no blood flowing through us or cellular activity, are we alive? Is it appropriate to call us dead though if we’ll be able to be revived once the surgery was complete? Even when people are anesthetized, what is their life/death status.Will we need to redefine what life and death actually are?
The third animal with technical immortality is called the Tardigrade, or “Water Bear”, because they actually look kind of like an 8 legged gummy bear if you examine them closely under a microscope. Tardigrades are able to stall the process of aging through a process called “Cryptobiosis”, where they shut down their entire body and metabolism until things get better. This allows Tradigrades to be what are called “extremophiles”, meaning they don’t just resist aging. They can also be boiled, irradiated, frozen, starved, dried out, burned, or thrown out of an airlock in space and still survive. They can withstand the hottest, coldest, driest and most inhospitable places on Earth, sometimes even for decades.
Most organisms need water to suirvive, so metabolism can occur and drive all the biochemical reactions that take place in cells. But creatures like the Tardigrade get around this restriction through a process called Anhydrobiosis, meaning life without water. Bacteria, Archea, and some plants can all survive drying up. For many tardigrades, this requires thast they go through what’s called a Ton-state, they curl up into a ball and wait until water returns. it’s thought that as water becomes scarce and they enter the Tun-state, they start to synthesize special molecules which fill the tardigrade cells to replace lost water. By forming a matrix. Components of the cells that are sensitive to dryness, like DNA, protein, and membranes, get trapped in this matrix. It’s thought that this keeps these molecules locked in position to stop them folding, breaking apart or fusing together. Once it is rehydrated the matrix dissolves, leaving behind undamaged functional cells. Beyond dryness, tardigrades can also tolerate other extreme stresses. Scientists are now trying to find our whether tardigrades use their Tun-state to survive other stresses like aging, if we can undrerstand how they stabilize their sensitive biological molecules, perhaps we can apply this knowledge to help us stabilize human cells during freezing, or cryinic preservation.