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Tardigrades turn into glass to survive complete dehydration

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They are probably the toughest creatures on Earth, and now we know how they manage to survive years of complete dehydration.

Water bears, or

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, have been recorded surviving the
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, high doses of
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and pressure. These water dwelling creatures can also survive dry environments in a shrivelled-up, dormant state for as long as a decade, reviving within an hour when exposed to water.

To pull off this remarkable trick, the animals rely on proteins unique to them, called tardigrade-specific intrinsically disordered proteins (TDPs).

When there is water around, these anti-dehydration proteins are jelly-like and don’t form into well-defined three-dimensional structures like most known proteins.

But when water bears start to dry out, these proteins turn into a kind of glassy sanctuary that cocoons all dehydration-sensitive materials in the animal from harm.

“When the animal completely desiccates, the TDPs vitrify, turning the cytoplasmic fluid of cells into glass,” says lead author Thomas Boothby of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“We think this glassy mixture is trapping [other] desiccation-sensitive proteins and other biological molecules and locking them in place, physically preventing them from unfolding, breaking apart or aggregating together,” says Boothby.

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via ScitechPress.org

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