These microbes help animals survive winter

Squirrels and many other hibernating animals maintain muscle tone and gut microbiota during winter period. These animals are able to slow down their metabolism up to 99% to withstand a long winter without eating. They stay in great shape even if they don’t move.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that squirrels are fed by the microbes in their intestines during their hibernation. This astonishing discovery paves the way for new forms of treatment to treat people with muscular disorders.

Gut microbes can potentially be used to conditioning the body of astronauts to survive long space journeys. Furthermore, if human beings are able to reproduce this physiological performance at rest, they will then be able to live longer.

Hibernating animals continue to assimilate nutrients

Hibernating squirrels still retain at least 1% of their vital functions. Even if their body is immersed in this slowed state, they must continue to synthesize molecules to to stay healthy.

In particular, they need a regular supply of nitrogen to maintain their muscles and not die during hibernation. This element is essential for the synthesis of amino acids and proteins. However, it occurs in the body of humans and animals in the form of urea, a molecule which cannot be assimilated and is released in their urine.

Some gut microbes break down urea into nitrogen

Researchers have noticed that the urea that passes through the digestive tract of squirrels may have been broken down by certain intestinal microbes. These were able to break down urea to meet their nitrogen needs.

These scientists wanted to determine what proportion of this urea nitrogen released was assimilated by the body of the squirrels. So they injected urea synthesized in the lab from labeled carbon and nitrogen isotopes into squirrels.

They gave some individuals a course of antibiotics to reduce the population of microbes present in their intestines. As expected, labeled isotopes were indeed released by intestinal microbes from decomposed urea molecules. The researchers were able to determine the pathway of these molecules to the animal’s liver, where muscle proteins are synthesized.


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