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Undisciplined: The Bear Necessities

Mike Boswell,

2020 has been rough. I don’t know about you, but there were a lot of times this year that I just wanted to go to sleep and wake up a few months later. Well, it turns out that someday we might be able to do that. Some scientists think humans might, in the future, be able to hibernate. And while that’s a long ways off, there’s a lot we can learn from hibernating species in the meantime.

Probably the most famous of these creatures are bears. And those are the animals that are at the heart of Heiko Jansen's work at the Department of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience at Washington State University. 

Jansen believes that bears have a lot to teach us, not just about themselves but about us humans, too. And one of the big reasons why bears might be such good teachers is that even though we’re really quite similar genetically, bears do something that we don’t –– they hibernate. Jansen’s team’s research explores how that affects their physiology, including things like metabolic regulation and circadian rhythms.


Matthew LaPlante has reported on ritual infanticide in Northern Africa, insurgent warfare in the Middle East, the legacy of genocide in Southeast Asia, and gang violence in Central America. But a few years back, something donned on him: Maybe the news doesn't have to be brutally depressing all the time. Today, he balances his continuing work on more heartbreaking subjects by writing books about the intersection of science, human health and society, including the New York Times best-selling Lifespan with geneticist David Sinclair and the Nautilus Award-winning Longevity Plan with cardiologist John Day. His first solo book, Superlative, looks at what scientists are learning by studying organisms that have evolved in record-setting ways, and his is currently at work on another book about embracing the inevitability of human-caused climate change with an optimistic outlook on the future.