Wired's excellent new Danger Room blog has a "neat" piece on the quest to build stronger, faster and harder-to-kill soldiers using the metabolic secrets of - squirrels!
The squirrels are amazing creatures. During the winter months, their 300 beat-per-minute heart rate slows to a mere two to ten beats; their oxygen consumption drops to one-fiftieth of normal; their body temperatures fall essentially to zero. Yet, the creatures are able to emerge from that hibernating state in a hurry -- and no worse for wear.
Stanford University's Craig Heller has been fascinated with the creatures, for decades. He used to spend months every year watching how the squirrels and chipmunks operating in their native Sierra mountains. Now in his 60s, the avuncular, bushy-eyebrowed physiologist still goes up to the mountains every year, to collect squirrels for his studies into hibernation.
One of the things that Heller has been trying to figure out for so long is how squirrels and other hibernators manage to regulate their core body temperatures, even as they konk out. Those trials lead to an examination of the human temperature-control system, which lead to a specialized glove-like device, built for the military, that... well, read the article to find out. Let's just say the San Francisco 49ers use the things for a reason. So do soldiers in Iraq.
There's more at Danger Room.