SCIENCE! of bears

I couldn’t be more proud of one of today’s NPR stories. One of my favorite professors at Michigan Tech, Dr Seth Donahue, was featured in a story discussing the research of hibernating bears. Seth studies bear bone mechanics and osteoporosis, as well as the mechanisms involved with regulating bone metabolism during periods of inactivity.

Bears make a great, unique model for disuse bone metabolism, because they hibernate for 6 months of the year. During this time, they don’t really move and they don’t secrete waste.  If a human were to do this, they would end up with frail bones, weak muscles, and all sorts of other metabolic problems. But bears are different. Their bones maintain their strength even during hibernation, and as the bear gets older, the porosity of their bone bone (which typically decreases with age in humans) actually increases. Their muscles don’t atrophy during hibernation, either. Recent work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks studied the longitudinal metabolism of hibernating bears using a hibernaculum, where the researchers could keep “nuisance” bears (the bears that get into dumpsters in towns and cause all sorts of problems for residents) and observe them during their hibernating state. It’s quite cool stuff, if you ask me.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Click on the image below to hear the rest of the story.


About megankillian

Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Delaware. I love biomechanics!

Posted on February 18, 2011, in science. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I actually heard this on my drive in to work at the “Michigan Technical University” (listen at ~2:35 in) this morning. I was simultaneously elated and depressed.

  2. cool story! I listen to npr regularly and missed it.

  3. That is a really cool story. Bears are my favorite animals, and I love seeing them in the woods. In college a friend got to go wtih the Maine Wildlife folks and tag baby hibernating bears. SO CUTE. And really interesting stuff.

  4. Awesome! I’d be first in line to become a human-bear hybrid.

  5. I got your Levar Burton Reading Rainbow connection. Interesting stuff!

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