'Metabolic trick' in squirrels' guts could help astronauts in deep space: researcher

New research by a Université de Montréal biologist seeks to explain how squirrels conserve energy

when they hibernate, and what implications that information could have on the future of space travel.

Matthew Regan's study of the thirteen-lined ground squirrel found in North America seems to confirm the theory of "urea nitrogen salvage,"

which suggests that some hibernating animals can pull off a "metabolic trick" in which their gut microbes recycle urea nitrogen

a waste product created in both the ground squirrel and in humans that is usually excreted in urine – and repurpose it to create new tissue proteins.

One of the problems hibernating animals encounter is losing important dietary nitrogen because of their extended fasting period,

which can cause protein imbalances. In other animals this could lead to muscle loss, 

 but Regan's research suggests this recycling of nitrogen prevents this damage in hibernators.

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