Animals are true superheroes. They have superpowers that we humans can only dream of. Some grow back their limbs after they have lost them. Others let huge bones grow on their heads at a rapid speed. And some can go into hibernation for months without losing muscle. Their skills could help humans against Alzheimer’s, heart attack and osteoporosis. But these superpowers are still a mystery. How do animals do that? Scientists are trying to solve the riddles to help save human lives.
You do not have to travel far to find animals with superpowers. They live in the forests right on our doorsteps. Red deer are capable of regenerating antlers every year. They grow at a rate of about one and a half centimeter each day. That’s a remarkable speed, considering that the antlers are bone. There are two things scientists would like to know. First, how this growth is triggered and controlled over and over again. The answer could tell how humans could regrow lost limbs. Second, they want to know how the deer manage to replenish their ribs with calcium. Each year a stag suffers holes in its ribs, because the calcium from the food is not enough to build a set of antlers so the animal has to take it from its ribs. If science knew how the replenishment works, it could help in the treatment of osteoporosis.
In Alaska, scientists are tracking another animal superpower. Black bears are able to regulate their metabolism independently from their body temperature. While other mammals lower their body temperature during hibernation to almost zero degrees, black bears maintain it at around 35 degrees Celsius. Scientists consider it possible to transfer this ability to humans at some point in the future. Such torpor would give medical professionals more time for medical care in an emergency and astronauts would have to take less food with them on their journey. So black bears could even help us to fly to Mars.
It sounds like science fiction, but the study of animal superpowers has already led to results. In cardiac surgery, agents such as tirufiban based on snake venom components are regularly used. With them physicians can dissolve blockages even in the finest bloodstreams and thus avoid heart attacks.
The filmmaker Heiko De Groot has visited eight research projects in Europe and America. In his documentary which is rich of great photography he tells about the exciting detective work of scientists in the search for remedies for humans. The film shows impressively how animals can help us to save human lives and by that presents another argument on how important it is to conserve biodiversity.