Thursday, 29 September 2016

Survival secret of 'Earth's hardiest animal' revealed

By Nathan Tauger and Victoria Gill BBC Science reporters
20 September 2016

Researchers have discovered a genetic survival secret of Earth's "hardiest animal". 

A gene that scientists identified in these strange, aquatic creatures - called tardigrades - helps them survive boiling, freezing and radiation. 

In future, it could be used to protect human cells, the researchers say.

It was already known that tardigrades, also known as water bears, were able to survive by shrivelling up into desiccated balls.

But the University of Tokyo-led team found a protein that protects its DNA - wrapping around it like a blanket.

The scientists, who published their findings in the journal Nature Communications, went on to grow human cells that produced that same protein, and found that it protected those cells too. 

This, the scientists suggest, means that genes from these "extremophiles", might one day be used to protect living things from radiation - from X-rays, or as a treatment to prevent damage from the Sun's harmful rays. 

Tardigrades are more commonly - and cutely - known as water bears. Scientists had thought that they survived radiation exposure by repairing the damage done to their DNA. But Prof Takekazu Kunieda, of the University of Tokyo, and his colleagues, carried out an eight-year study of a tardigrade genome to pinpoint the source of its remarkable resilience. 

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