TARDIGRADE GENOME SEQUENCED
As some of nature’s toughest critters, despite measuring less than 0.5mm long when fully grown, tardigrades can survive dehydration, extreme temperatures, the vacuum of outer space and doses of radiation hundreds of times stronger than that required to kill a human. Now, a team from the University of Edinburgh has sequenced the genomes of two species of tardigrade in an attempt to understand exactly how they are capable of such feats.
By exploring the animals’ DNA, the team identified the genes that enable tardigrades to resist the effects of dehydration. These genes activate as the animals dry out, triggering the production of proteins that replace the water in their cells and preserve the microscopic structure. Other proteins analysed appear to protect the tardigrades’ DNA from damage, and may explain why they can survive such high levels of radiation. The researchers were also able to pinpoint the animals’ exact position in the tree of life. It turns out that they sit between arthropods, such as insects and spiders, and nematodes, a type of roundworm.
The researchers hope that further study of the genome will enable them to develop medicines and therapies for use on humans.
“I have been fascinated by these tiny, endearing animals for two decades. It is wonderful to finally have their true genomes, and to begin to understand them,” said research lead Mark Blaxter. “This is just the start: with the DNA blueprint we can now find out how tardigrades resist extremes, and perhaps use their special proteins in biotechnology and medical applications.”
DNA sequencing should shed new light on a tardigrade’s amazing powers of endurance