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The Incredible Way Tardigrades Survive Total Dehydration

The Incredible Way Tardigrades Survive Total Dehydration

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The Incredible Way Tardigrades Survive Total Dehydration

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The Incredible Way Tardigrades Survive Total Dehydration

A scanning electron micrograph image of six tardigrades in their dehydrated state. When tardigrades dry out they retract their legs and heads within their cuticle forming a ball like shape known as a “tun.” (Image: T. C. Boothby)

Tardigrades, also known as “water bears,” are probably the toughest microscopic creatures on the planet, capable of surviving freezing, radiation, and even the vacuum of space. They’re also able to withstand complete dehydration—and scientists have finally figured out how they do it.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, have discovered a unique set of proteins, now known as tardigrade-specific intrinsically disordered proteins (TDPs), that turns parts of the tardigrade’s body into a glass-like substance when it dries out, protecting its cells from destruction. This trick, say the researchers, could be applied elsewhere, including agriculture and medicine. This study now appears in the science journal Molecular Cell.

Classified as “extremophiles,” tardigrades have confounded and astounded scientists for over two centuries. These ancient and surprisingly adorable microscopic creatures are capable of withstanding the worst that nature can throw at them, making them a valuable organism for scientific inquiry.

A recent study from Japan showed that the vast majority of tardigrade genes are “proprietary,” meaning these animals evolved their death-defying traits on their own, and were not “stolen” from other animals (an evolutionary process known as horizontal gene transfer). Thus, water bears have genes—and by consequence, characteristics—that aren’t seen anywhere else in the animal kingdom.

Normally, tardigrades, of which there are over 1,000 species, spend their days crawling around wet moss or swimming through the oceans. Their global travels often get them into trouble, and they’ve managed to evolve an incredible array of life-saving tricks. As noted, tardigrades can withstand severe environmental conditions, such as freezing, radiation, and of relevance to this post, dehydration.

When tardigrades dry out, they retract their legs and heads within their cuticle, forming a ball-like shape known as a “tun.” They can stay in this configuration for up to a decade or longer, and then spring back to life once water is available.

Other organisms, like yeast, brine shrimp, and nematode worms, use a sugar called trehalose to tolerate dehydration, or desiccation as it’s referred to by scientists. For years, scientists figured that tardigrades used the same compound, but biochemical analyses of tardigrades has revealed very low to no traces of trehalose in their tiny bodies. The absence of this compound in tardigrades suggested a different strategy, prompting Thomas Boothby and his team from UNC to figure out their strategy.

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This post first appeared on Tech Insider, please read the originial post: here

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