Like it or not, science fiction has always managed to grab attention. Be it time traveling or be it FTL (Faster-Than-Light) Drive piercing through space-time continuum or be it a wormhole, enabling us to jump from one celestial ether to another in a blink of an eye – we humans have vivid imagination. It is this imagination that helps us achieve incredible things, innovate the unbelievable and still keep pushing for more. Yet another such unbelievable imagination is cryo sleep.
What is Cryogenics and Cryo Sleep?
What really is cryo sleep or cryogenics as such? We will spare you the trouble of reading the science and make it brief. Watched the movies like Prometheus and Alien-Covenant? Noticed those white coffin-like boxes where men and women sleep wearing special dresses and travel through space for a very long time? They wake up when they are very close to their destination. They come out of those boxes puking and all-shivering and they just get fine after several minutes!
That’s cryo sleep. Simply put, you go into a long – very long sleep (without aging of course) with help of science and then you wake up with help of science. Voila! You can actually travel for hundreds of years and still wake up the same jolly young you that you had been a hundred years back before you went into sleep.
How is that possible? Actually, that’s fiction. Cryo sleep is not real. It is yet to become a reality but scientists are trying hard. The science behind it says that your body will be frozen to sleep – a situation called suspended animation. Several years later, you will be unfrozen from that state and reanimated back into what you have been previously. This whole thing in a nutshell is called Cryogenics.
Why Cryogenics and Cryo Sleep?
Honestly, we don’t see a point of that here on Earth but yes, if at all you want to travel through space and reach some distant habitable planet that is thousands of lightyears away, Cryogenics is your best bet now unless the great minds of the scientific community actually identify and find a wormhole in reality.
There may be some people here on earth who will perhaps like to go into suspended animation and wake up only when science has advanced so much that it can treat some life-threatening disease (even in its last stage) and give immortality. But that’s purely absurd for at least us because we really don’t want eternal hell.
What is the Freezing Breakthrough We Are Talking?
Huh! Thought you would never ask! Scientists have achieved cryo sleep for zebrafish. They have managed give the embryo of a zebrafish the state of suspended animation and then reanimated it back (revived it back). They made use of a cyroprotectant solution. This solution contains something weird – gold nanotubes!
There were and there are many problems with cryopreservation. For instance, the first problem is that water will expand when frozen. So, when a body is frozen it will from ice crystals in extracellular space. It is not true that water inside the cells will freeze and expand and then, cells will burst. On the contrary, cell become dehydrated and then compressed between the ice crystals that form between cells.
The major problem comes during thawing. What happens is when the frozen body is warmed up, thermal stress is produced because of nonuniform heating as cells have high specific heat and low thermal conductivity. As a result of this stress, tissues can fracture. There is no medical process available as of today that can actually repair such damages.
The researchers at Smithsonian Institute, University of Hawaii and University of Minnesota have come up with a nice solution. They took the embryos of zebrafish. These embryos are translucent. They microinjected cryptoprotectant liquid containing gold nanotubes or nanorods. The idea for introducing gold nanorods was because gold nanorods can be quickly thawed.
Once injected, these embryos were very rapidly frozen (flash-freezing) to a temperature of -196 degrees Celsius. The embryos stayed frozen for a few minutes after which, the scientists shot the embryos with 1064 nm pulse of laser for just 1 ms. The gold nanorods present in the cryoprotectant liquid were excited by the laser pulse and they led to rapid unfreezing. This rapid warming prevented ice formation, which could possibly damage the embryos.
After the process was completed, 31% of the embryos maintained consisted structure for a period of 1 hour. 17% continued to develop after 3 hours and after 24 hours, only 10% showed movement.
That’s quite less but hey, 10% did survive and develop at the end of 24 hours post warming, proving that cryonics or cryogenics did work and the gold nanorods or nanotubes can be given the credit.
Scientists now need to wait and see whether these embryos that survived will grow up normally and become fully functional adults or not. If they do, gold nanotubes may be the answer to the thawing problem of cryonics and some day, these gold nanorods may be the key to make science fiction a reality and humans can not only be preserved but brought back to life in perfectly working condition.