13-Lined Ground Squirrel Is Focus of Transplant Research

(13-lined Ground Squirrel, originally uploaded by The Horned Jack Lizard.)

The Wisconsin State Journal has an interesting story today about how the 13-lined ground squirrel is the focus of organ transplant research.

Yep, this oddly named species of squirrel, known for the lovely series of spots and stripes flanking its fur, is quite the ambitious hibernator, so much so that it has aroused the interest of medical researchers.

As it turns out, the livers harvested from rodents that can hibernate (13-lined ground squirrels) last much longer outside of the body than livers harvested from rodents that can’t hibernate (rats).

As this older, but more in-depth ABC News article puts it, “It is one of the great physiological marvels of the natural world because the squirrel is able to protect and preserve its critical organs despite extreme biological insults over a period of several months.”

I’m not sure, but it seems that the lead researcher is hoping that unlocking the genetic clues of hibernation could lead to the development of a human-style hibernation, to be induced prior to harvesting organs from dying humans (although it seems that this raises all sorts of ethical issues, a la the movie Coma.).

I have to admit, I feel a bit sorry for the research subjects; it can’t be much fun to be unwittingly signed up to have your organs removed and studied.

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