by Brett Smith
Tardigrades, the odd microscopic animals also referred to as water bears, are known for the puppet-like appearance and capacity to persist despite extreme environments and states.
According to a new report in the journal Cell, water bears' uncanny survival ability can be attributed to a unique group of proteins, which the study team called tardigrade-specific intrinsically disordered proteins (TDPs).
The study helps explain why tiny animals are able to withstand harsh radiation, temperatures approaching Absolute Zero, extreme desiccation, and other bizarre circumstances.
"The big takeaway from our study is that tardigrades have evolved unique genes that allow them to survive drying out," study author Thomas Boothby, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said in a statement. "In addition, the proteins that these genes encode can be used to protect other biological material—like bacteria, yeast, and certain enzymes—from desiccation."
The Tardigrade's Big Secret
For some time, it was thought that a glucose known as trehelose gave tardigrades the capability to put up with an extreme lack of water. Trehelose is discovered in a quantity of other organisms that can make it through extreme dessiccation, including yeast and some nematode worms.
However, biochemical analyses of tardigrades have discovered trehelose at low amounts or not at all, and genetic analyses have not shown a gene for the enzyme necessary to make this sugar.