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Tardigrades Can Survive Almost Anything, and Now We Know How

Tardigrades

Water bear. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a water bear (Paramacrobiotus craterlaki) in moss. Water bears (or tardigrades) are tiny invertebrates that live in aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats such as lichen and damp moss. Paramacrobiotus craterlaki is a carnivorous species that feeds on nematodes and rotifers. Water bears are found throughout the world, including regions of extreme temperature, such as hot springs, and extreme pressure, such as deep underwater. They can also survive the high levels of radiation and vacuum of space. Magnification: x330 when printed at 10 centimetres wide.

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.

Tardigrades
Credit: Source.

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.

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    Leah Crane is a Chicago-based freelance science writer and editor primarily covering physics and spa... keep reading