Tardigrades, are also known as "water bears" or "moss piglets," are extremely tiny creatures (around 1 mm) that live in water. They are invertebrates with eight legs and can survive for up to 30 years without food or water. They can also live through the coldest and hottest temperature extremes, and even can survive in the vacuums of space! The only thing that can take out the tardigrades is the death of our Sun. Tardigrade researchers never really understood how they can survive in such extreme cases, until just recently.
Tardigrades have cells that are protected by a protein called Dsup, which is short for "Damage Suppression Protein." In the past, researchers have taken this protein and added it to human cells. This allowed them to withstand dangerous levels of X-Rays without being harmed! Dsup is nothing new to scientists, but they had no idea how it worked to protect the tardigrades until a recent study came out.
With a new study that came out in the Journal of eLife, a team of researchers from the University of California at San Diego investigated the activity of Dsup in tardigrade cells using an array of biochemical analysis techniques. The results were astonishing and showed that Dsup binds to the genetic material inside each cell, forming a protective barrier around it that prevents it from the damages of space and temperature extremes. In humans, X-Rays can split water molecules inside cells forming dangerous particles called "hydroxl radicals" that damages DNA. In tardigrades, they are immune to hydroxl radicals because Dsup acts as a shield and protects their genetic makeup.
Researchers concluded that Dsup could be engineered into other animal cells, which would also help them to survive under extreme conditions. According to the study's co-author, James Kadonaga, "Dsup might thus be used in a range of applications, such as cell-based therapies and diagnostic kits in which increased cell survival is beneficial."
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