The tardigrade or water bear, known as the strongest creature on Earth, has super survival ability and has a unlucky fate. It must constantly face the cruel experiments provided by scientists.
According to a study by the University of Tokyo in Japan, in order to avoid drying up, the tardigrades have another survival skill, which is to transform into a “water bear gummy”.
Takekazu Kunieda, associate professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Tokyo, said:
Water is essential to life as we know it, but tardigrades can live without water for decades, and the key is how their cells handle this stress during dehydration.
When water leaves the cell, Kunieda points out, a certain protein must maintain the cell’s strength so that the body can sustain itself.
After testing several different species, the researchers found that the tardigrade’s unique cytoplasmic-abundant heat soluble (CAHS) protein protects their cells from dehydration.
Many proteins become slack when in water or in living organisms, dancing like kelp.
In this water-laden environment, many different kinds of proteins form gels; once the external conditions are too dry, the proteins harden and shrink into a twisted, unresponsive thing.
However, the tardigrade’s protein has a super strength, and when the external conditions are hot and dry, the gel becomes rigid but remains elastic to protect the tardigrade’s cells and survive.
As long as the conditions are moist enough, the protein slowly relaxes again, allowing the cell to resume normal function.
Although the two tardigrade skills, “jelly bear” and “vitrification” are very different, the researchers believe that each tardigrade faces different threats.
Therefore, it is possible to extend different survival skills, and the key lies in how to enter the hidden state and protect oneself.
In the past, scientists have tested the tolerance of tardigrades to extreme environments. Thomas C. Boothby, author of the paper, said that when the animals are completely dry, the specific proteins of tardigrades will “vitrify”.
Many scholars believe that trehalose is the reason why tardigrades are extremely drought-resistant.
But in the new report, the study authors show that the CAHS protein in tardigrades forms gelatinous filaments during drought that form a network,
The shape is supported when the cells are dehydrated, and the process is reversible, so when the tardigrade cells rehydrate, the filaments will recede at a rate that doesn’t put undue stress on the cells.
At the same time, the authors also provide evidence that the gel protein has limited function on human cells, so human cells cannot be like gummy bears.
Kunieda and his research team also hope that the report will help identify gentler methods of preserving biomaterials, which, if successful, could help prolong the preservation of medicines, research materials, and even organs awaiting transplants.