How tardigrades survive dehydration

Some species of tardigrades, or water bears as the tiny aquatic creatures are also known, can survive in different environments often hostile or even fatal to most forms of life. For the first time, researchers describe a new mechanism that explains how some tardigrades can endure extreme dehydration without dying. They explored proteins that form a gel during cellular dehydration. This gel stiffens to support and protect the cells from mechanical stress that would otherwise kill them. These proteins have also been shown to work in insect cells and even show limited functionality in human cultured cells.

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Tardigrades often draw attention to themselves, despite being so tiny. Their uncanny ability to survive in situations that would kill most organisms has captured the public’s imagination. One could easily imagine that by decoding their secrets, we could apply the knowledge to ourselves to make humans more resilient to extreme temperatures, pressures, and even dehydration. This is just science fiction for now, but nevertheless, researchers, also captivated by the microscopic creatures, seek to understand the mechanisms responsible for their robustness, as this could bring other benefits too.

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