As someone who studies human performance, from time to time I have people ask why scientists will test animals to understand human performance. In most cases, it is because to continue to understand why humans can do what they do (and how we can train them to do ‘it’ better), we have to use models that allow us to do things that we can’t do in humans. For example, my lab has a long-running set of experiments where we are looking at humans’ drive to be active. Much of this drive probably originates in the brain and to study that drive, we need samples of brain tissue from animals that we know are high active. As much as I’d love to look at brain samples from high-active humans, no one has volunteered at this point to give up a piece of their brain (would you?) so we are forced to use other animals.
Another side of this discussion occurs when there are animals that exhibit extraordinary capabilities greater than humans and by studying these animals’ capabilities, it might shine light on how humans are biologically different in these areas. Dr. Michael Davis (Aggie ’88) from Oklahoma State takes just this tack as he studies the exercise capacity of sled dogs to understand how to help humans perform longer. Much of Dr. Davis’ work is funded by the Department of Defense and you can understand how they might be interested in making sure our soldiers can perform at top efficiency for as long as possible. While a great conversation and talk from Dr. Davis is available in our audio- and video-podcasts this week, suffice it to say that sled dogs are incredible athletes. Dr. Davis suggests that they may be the most incredible endurance-athletes on the planet, especially as they are able to exercise at such a high level for so long, day in and day out (and they like to do it as well!). Interestingly, researchers still can quite determine how athletic these dogs are because they overheat in normal temperatures and thus, testing has to be done in extremely cold temperatures. Dr. Davis specifically built a lab in Alaska that can test these dogs down to -20 degrees (Fahrenheit) and still the dogs overheat.
So, next time you take your dog for a walk, remember that you may have one of the greatest athletes on the planet at the end of your lease…no wonder they always want to go play!