How Water Bear Survives Complete Dehydration?

Posted: Mar 17 2017, 3:39am CDT | by , Updated: Mar 17 2017, 4:26am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Water Bear Turns into Glass When it is Dry
The image shows a scanning electron micrograph of 6 tardigrades in their tun state. When tardigrades dry out they retract their legs and heads within their cuticle, forming a ball like 'tun.' Credit: T.C. Boothby
  • How Water Bear Survives Drying Out for a Decade
  • Water Bear Survives Complete Dehydration by Turning into Glass

The water bear or tardigrade as it is scientifically termed survives dehydration via the usage of a particular proteins called tardigrade-specific intrinsically disordered proteins. Water bear turns into glass when it is dry.

Tardigrades are small creatures that can only be seen via a microscope. They are informally called water bears. These animals have intrigued scientists since the past two and a half centuries.

Their cute physiognomy and ability to survive the harshest of circumstances have made them the darling agents of microbiologists. They can undergo dessication and remain in that state for upto a decade or more.

This ability is there thanks to the presence of what are known as tardigrade-specific intrinsically disordered proteins (TDPs).

The special genes of this creature allows it to thrive despite the dry spells. The proteins that its genes allow expression happen to also allow bacteria, yeast and many enzymes to survive dessication.

It was thought that a sugar termed trehelose caused the water bears to undergo dessication. Yet further studies have shown that trehelose is present in very low levels in water bears. Sometimes it is not present at all.

So the question is if it is not trehelose that is allowing water bears to undergo dessication, than what is the reason behind their drying out for survival purposes.

A thorough study of the genes of the water bear thus took place. It was found that certain genes did express themselves when the water bear started to dry out.

The proteins that encoded these genes were the TDPs. They come within the rubric of a range of proteins known as intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs). The IDPs have no 3D structure to begin with so they are different from other proteins.

The researchers looked at other water bears and found the same pattern there as well. A species that has the genes turned on, manages to survive the dry spell better than other species.

Many of these proteins are there to begin with and do not need to be made on the spot by the water bear. It is thus these TDPs that gave water bears their singular properties.

When these proteins were put into bacteria and yeasts, they too survived the harsh circumstances. Trehelose meanwhile allows other creatures to thrive despite undergoing dessication.

TDPs may have many applications in the future. The drying and freezing of pharmaceuticals in remote areas such as Africa may be a cinch in the times to come thanks to a wise and judicious use of TDPs obtained from water bears.

The findings of this study got published in the journal Molecular Cell.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
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