He can withstand enormous heat (up to 100°C) and cold (around minus 240°C), high pressure (7.5GPa), immersion in organic solvent, frozen vacuum of space and radiation. And he's not just an imaginary superhero. Meet Ramazzottius Varieornatus from phylum Tardigrades, commonly known as water bear. This tiny yet powerful invertebrate may help humans to conquer the space.
Scientists from University of Tokio inserted tardigrade genome into mammalian cells to investigate the way it is able to protect cells from radiation damage. "Tolerance against X-ray is thought to be a side-product of [the] animal's adaption to severe dehydration" says study leader Takekazu Kunieda. A protein named Dsup helps protect DNA from breaking under the stress of both desiccation and radiation, as the effect they have on molecules in living organism is similar. The tardigrade-tinged human cells increased X-ray withstand by about 40%.
This discovery can improve treatment in many human diseases as DNA protection is crucial in antiageing strategies and cancer protection. Also patients undergoing radiation therapy might beneft from it one day. We can probably adapt the water bear strategy to resist extreme space environments or to grow crops on Mars for instance.
Will a small step for Ramazzottius Varieornatus be a giant leap for mankind?
Source: Nature, Nature Communications. Image: Monika Kozub