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Anatomy & Physiology

Lemurs exhibit a stunning array of forms and physiologies. The largest living lemurs stand several feet tall, while the smallest are the size of a mouse.

By studying hibernation in the fat-tailed dwarf lemur, researchers at the Duke Lemur Center are providing a window into why humans sleep. Photo by David Haring.

By studying hibernation in the fat-tailed dwarf lemur, researchers at the Duke Lemur Center are providing a window into why humans sleep. Photo by David Haring.

One species can safely digest cyanide in amounts sufficient to kill an elephant. Others can hibernate to survive periods when food and water are in short supply. Ongoing work is exploring the hibernation habits of lemurs — our closest genetic relatives known to hibernate – to understand why humans sleep. By identifying similarities between lemurs and other hibernating animals, researchers may one day be able to induce hibernation-like states in humans. Being able to push humans into standby mode by temporarily reducing heart rate and brain activity could buy time for patients who have suffered head trauma or heart attacks, extend the shelf life of transplant organs, or even open the door to long-distance space travel.

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Related Publications

Blanco, M., et al. (2013). “Underground hibernation in a primate.” Scientific Reports.

Crawford, J., et al. (2011). “Smelling wrong: Hormonal contraception in lemurs alters critical female odour cues.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B 278: 122-130.

Krystal, A., et al. (2013). “The relationship of sleep with temperature and metabolic rate in a hibernating primate.” PLOS ONE.

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