Thursday, September 29, 2016 Headlines & Global News

Scientists break code of water bear's anti-radioactive durability

After 8 long years of research, a team of Japanese scientists figure out just how Tardigrades can survive extreme conditions.

Sep 22, 2016 01:46 PM EDT

Tardigrade or Water Bear

Tardigrades, or Water Bears, are microscopic animals no bigger than 1.5 millimeters or 0.059 inches in length. They are known to be the most resilient animal living today: surviving extreme conditions that would prove to be fatal to any other life form here on Earth.

They can withstand temperatures from close to absolute zero to as high as 300 °F or 150 °C, pressures that are six time greater than that of the deepest trenches in the world's oceans, and the vacuum of outer space.

They can also go without food or water for more than 30 years drying to the point where they have only 3 percent water or less and be able to feed and make offspring soon after rehydrating.

Now how durable is that?

One of the most remarkable abilities the Water Bear has, pertaining to their durability against extreme conditions, is their power to withstand radiation.

Radiation is "one of the things that's guaranteed to kill you," said Mark Blaxter, a geneticist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

How these tiny water dwelling, eight legged, micro animals can live in such extreme conditions have remained a mystery. But not until a team of Japanese scientists from the University of Tokyo, led by geneticist Takekazu Kunieda, presented a genetic analysis on the organism containing eight years' worth of research. It painted the most accurate picture of its genome, unveiling its secret to staying alive.

What's the secret?

Well, secrets, to be exact. One lies within the unique protein that's distinct with Tardigrade. It was discovered that this protein prevented the DNA from mutating when the organism was strafed with radiation.

What the team did was, first, choose the absolute toughest, most buoyant species from the entire Water Bear clan, Ramazzottius Variornatus. Then, they sequenced the entire genetic make-up of the species. A protein was found.

They called this protein Dsup for "damage suppressor", which prevents damage to the species' DNA when exposed to radiation.

"What's astonishing is that previously, molecules that repair damaged DNA were thought to be important for tolerating radiation," said Takuma Hashimoto, a biologist at the University of Tokyo and member of the team of researchers.

"On the contrary, Dsup works to minimize the harm inflicted on the DNA."

Another notable thing that the team performed was isolating the code for this protein and inserting it into human kidney cells, which have the same genetic material.

The "tweaked" kidney cells were then bombarded with four Grays worth of X-ray- an amount that would cause radiation sickness in a person and eventually kill him within 30 days if not treated. The Dsup prevented much damage to the cells at about 40 percent less. Of course, that's another story.




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