geneticists make human cells more resilient. “Protection and repair of DNA is a fundamental component of all cells and a central aspect in many human diseases, including cancer and aging,” said Jönsson. The protective potential of tardigrade proteins could be particularly helpful for people undergoing radiation therapies or astronauts who are exposed to high amounts of radiation on long journeys in space.
Tardigrades’ tolerance of being dehydrated might be even more important: “If dehydration-tolerance can become transferable, I hope it will transform the way we preserve various biological materials, including cells, crops, meats, fish, and so on,” speculated Kunieda.
Unfortunately, the genetic manipulations required to transfer such a trait aren’t so easy. While the researchers were able to transfer Dsup’s protective capability to a few cells, it’s not yet possible to transfer it to a whole person, or even a plant. It might not be possible for decades to come, but understanding where the tardigrade’s toughness comes from is a good start.
Because the tardigrade can survive in so many different sorts of extremes, it’s almost inevitable that it has a few more tricks up its sleeve. “We are really just at the beginning of exploring the genetic treasure that the tardigrade genome represents,” said Jönsson. Maybe we’ll pick up a few tips for toughness along the way.