Water Bear Protein Enables Extreme Radiation Resistance

Tardigrades, also known as 'water bears' and 'moss piglets,' are microscopic critters able to withstand a slew of environmental conditions that would kill off most other life: very high levels of radiation, extremely hot and cold temperatures, and even the conditions of outer space. Researchers with the University of Tokyo decided to zero in on one of those realities in particular, the resilience to radiation, and they may have found the answer — a particular protein.

The type of water bear "Ramazzottius varieornatus" is known for its resistance to radiation, and it is that variety the researchers focused on. After completely decoding the creature's genome, they discovered a protein dubbed Dsup, short for Damage Suppressor, that is basically a shield against radiation in terms of its effects on DNA.

Even more interesting, though, are their experiments; humans cultured cells enabled to produce this type of protein didn't suffer as much damage when exposed to X-ray radiation (the damage was cut in half). As well, these more resilient cells were able to continue reproducing after their exposure.

University of Tokyo's Takuma Hashimoto, one of the study's lead authors, said, "What's astonishing is that previously, molecules that repair damaged DNA were thought to be important for tolerating radiation. On the contrary, Dsup works to minimize the harm inflicted on the DNA."

This is just one part of the water bear's genome, which could itself also reveal – in due time – other secrets to its incredible ability to withstand extreme environments. It is thought other Dsup proteins could be involved in the tiny creature's durability.

VIA: Science Daily