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Home page > Animal Kingdom > The system that protects the bones of hibernating bears discovered

Animal Kingdom

A study on black bears has revealed the existence of a system that protects the bones of these animals during their long months of hibernation. At the same time this study represents a source of inspiration for new methods on the treatment of people suffering rapid bone cell loss during times of physical inactivity.

Scientists led by Seth Donahue of Michigan Technology University in Houghton observed bone development in the species Ursus americanus that suffers no bone loss during hibernation lasting between five to seven months. (1)

The observers focussed on expression in five genes concerned with the bears' bone metabolism. Donahue and his colleagues revealed that bone production remains level and can even reach a peak when the bears again become active. The study also showed that that bears exhibit no age-related bone weakening or thinning.

The scientists found that calcium, present in the bears' bodies and that constitutes the main component of bone, was subjected to a most efficient cycle, thanks to which the bones are protected. A subsequent objective of Donahue and his team is to develop new methods of bone treatment for human beings by comparing the structure of the hormones concerned with bone production in humans and bears.

This exceptionally efficient system observed in hibernating bears is not a first. In one study published in Nature magazine in 2001, examinations of bears of the same species showed that bears suffered less muscle loss during hibernation compared with other creatures. (2)

Scientists who studied bears over four years calculated that at the end of their five months of hibernation bears lost only 23% of their muscle power, and between 10 and 15% of proteins. In contrast, a human being who spent the same length of time in bed would lose 85% of muscle power and 90% of proteins.

These impeccable systems in bears also raise a number of important questions that need to be answered. A bear weighs hundreds of kilos. The bones in the body of a bear that stays motionless for months remain under that enormous weight, and, in addition, a greater weight is exerted onto the muscles, consisting of softer tissues than does bone, in the region of the body that makes contact with the ground.

From this point of view bed-ridden patients in hospitals require an enormous amount of care. Nurses turn them over during the day, enabling the weight of their bodies to be distributed over different regions and thus preventing sores from forming. The way that although a human being cannot remain motionless for even a day, a bear, weighing many times more, can sleep for weeks and months without eating anything and still suffer no bone or muscle impairment at the end of this period is literally miraculous.

The care of paralysed individuals provided by nurses and doctors is provided automatically by the system in bears. The bone cells exhibit a most efficient use of calcium, and the bear metabolism keeps muscle loss at rather low levels.

Muscle loss is inevitable in starving people, and can prove fatal. The way that starving children's stomachs swell up is a result of the muscles being broken down in their bodies in which no fat remains, and the water accumulation that follows on this. Yet no such accumulation is observed in bears' bodies, and bears are spared this situation that might otherwise spell death.

Finding out why bear bones are s strong could lead to new therapies for osteoporosis.

How is it, though, that the bear's bone and muscle cells can exhibit such complex arrangements? How is it that these cells, devoid of any capacity for thought, can regulate the entry into and exit from their membranes of calcium in such a conscious manner? How is it that bears are unaffected by the muscle loss observed in starving human beings, even though they go without food for months?

Naturally, this consciousness observed in the cells does not belong to the molecules that constitute them. Atoms such as oxygen, carbon and nitrogen cannot know the bears' needs and make plans accordingly. That being the case, it can be seen that the consciousness in the cells belongs to an entity with a superior intellect. There can be no doubt that it is our Lord, Almighty God, the Lord of the Worlds, Who created bears and blessed them with the metabolisms to maintain their health during the months of hibernation.

( 1)
Seth Donahue et. al, "Bone formation is not impaired by hibernation (disuse) in black bears Ursus americanus" The Journal of Experimental Biology, 1 December 2003, vol 206, p. 4233
( 2) Henry J. Harlow et. al "Muscle strength in overwintering bears" Nature, 22 February 2001, p. 997

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