Tardigrades or “water bears” as they are more commonly known have a unique feature. They are capable of surviving in extreme conditions and even ‘come back from the dead’. Scientists noted that water bears can recover after desiccating for a decade or even longer. However, until now, they were uncertain how they could achieve this feat.
Microscopic Tardigrades Are Some Of The Toughest Organisms
Tardigrades are blobby-bloodied, microscopic organisms. They are just 0.002 to 0.05 inches big and have four pairs of legs and segmented bodies. Science discovered them over years ago and has been studying them ever since. They intrigued researchers through their ability to survive in even the most extreme conditions.
Now, a new research claims that the secret is hidden in their DNA. The team behind the study was led by Thomas C. Boothby. He is a Life Sciences Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow part of the University of North California. Research results were released on March 16th. They were published in the Molecular Cell journal. The paper is titled: “Tardigrades Use Intrinsically Disordered Proteins to Survive Desiccation”.
For their research, the team analyzed dried out water bears. They studied their genetic activity during the drying out process. First of all, the scientists determined the most active genes during this event. Then, they took a closer look at them. In doing so, they tried to establish their role and purpose.
According to results, several of these genes expressed a unique protein. This seems to be specific to the tardigrades as it was never before noted in another species. As such, the team decided to name it TDP. This translates into intrinsically disordered proteins. TDPs work similar to trehalose as they are able to create glass-like structures. These protect and preserve dehydrated cells.
The Tardigrades TDPs May Be More Useful Than Believed
Next, the team studied TDPs across the various water bear species. In some of them, these unique proteins were active all the time. In others, they became active only in certain specific cases. The species with a constantly active TDP were noted to have a more successful recovery rate.
Boothby presented his team’s conclusion on the matter. “We think it can do this because it has so many of these proteins around already and doesn’t need time to make them”.
As it is, science will continue to study the recently discovered proteins. The team considers that these unique genes can be adapted to other species as well. They believed them capable of protecting other biological material. For example, TDP-like proteins could help preserve bacteria, yeast, or certain enzymes. These would then be able to resist and survive desiccation.
By stabilizing the protein, science could then use it to protect crops from drought. It may also help stabilize sensitive pharmaceuticals, according to Boothby. The study also reveals the wider than expected method in which nature protect itself from desiccation and environmental stress.
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