THE ARCTIC AND ANTARCTIC ARE BARELY HABITABLE BY HUMANS, yet some mammals live there quite cozily. The adaptations of their bodies to the cold are among the most unique on the planet—and hold secrets that medical researchers have been trying to untangle for decades.

“I wanted to know their strategy,” says Warren Zapol, director of the Anesthesia Center for Critical Care Research at Massachusetts General Hospital, who has made more than a dozen trip to Antarctica. His teams continue to study the Weddell seal, a remarkable animal that can hold its breath for as long as 90 minutes. Learning to copy their tricks could help a range of conditions that limit oxygen.

On the other end of the planet, Kelly Drew works with the arctic ground squirrel, an animal that spends most of the winter with its body at a sub-freezing temperature. Learning how they survive the cold could help human patients—including stroke victims—endure temperatures that can protect their tissues from dangerous inflammation.

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