Tardigrade Research

Tardigrade Research

Tardigrades are microscopic organisms about the size of a dust mite but are really cute as they look like a baby manatee.  For being so tiny they have some really special properties that scientists hope to adapt to human health. 

Tardigrades are incredibly tough.  They can survive being frozen down to minus 272° Celsius, being exposed to a vacuum in outer space, being completely dried out and being exposed to 500 times the dose of x-rays that would kill a human. 

Tardigrade indestructibility stems from its ability to adapt.  Cold, dryness, vacuum, and x-radiation all cause damage to cell walls and to DNA within cells.  A tardigrade can abrogate these damages by synthesizing special “repair proteins”.  These special proteins support the cell’s membranes, essential proteins, and DNA.  One of these “repair proteins” Dsup has only been found in tardigrades and no other living organism.  Dsup binds to DNA and physically shields it from oxidative damage. 

In human cells our DNA has built in spare repair parts called telomeres.  As we live and are exposed to oxidative/inflammatory stresses our cells use the telomeres to repair damage.  But once the telomere resource is used up the cell will misfunction and even potentially become cancerous. 

And so, there is very active research into finding a way to protect human cells with Dsup.  Already scientists have inserted the gene to produce Dsup in experimental animals and it is working beautifully.  As a side-bar NASA scientists are looking at the possibilities of using Dsup to help long term space flight (with its attendant exposure to ionizing radiation for astronauts). 

Comments are closed.