About the episode
With half a millimeter, tardigrades may be barely visible, but they continue to attract attention with their strange survival skills. The researchers are now on another research trail.
Small, multicellular animals survive in situations where almost all other life forms would die. For example, launching it into space, or living for decades without water. Of course, scientists are very interested in the mechanisms behind this. Because who knows, we humans can learn something from that, too.
In recent research, they looked at how tardigrades survive without water. They saw that special proteins ensure the formation of a gel that hardens and thus protects the dehydrated cells from mechanical stress. The moment the water leaves the cell, which usually results in the cell losing its cohesion and damage, the gel ensures that the cell can continue to do its job. When there is enough water again, the gel will slowly dissolve.
In the lab, the proteins appear to function also in insect cells and to a limited extent also in our own cells. The researchers hope that this discovery will at least help preserve vital samples such as cells for longer in dry conditions. They also plan to examine at least 300 additional proteins in tardigrades. Find more secrets.
Read more: How tardigrades tolerate drought.
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