In a new study published in Nature Communications, geneticist Takekazu Kunieda and his colleagues from the University of Tokyo present a genetic analysis of Ramazzottius variornatus, arguably the toughest and most resilient species found in the entire tardigrade clan.
Their results show that tardigrades have evolved a unique arsenal of strategies to cope with stressful conditions, including a protein that protects its DNA from radiation damage.
When the researchers transplanted this protein to cultured human cells, the same protections still applied — a finding with potential applications to cellular preservation methods, genomic therapies, and the burgeoning science of transgenics.
Tardigrades are strangely adorable microscopic creatures that are capable of withstanding some of the worst that nature can throw at them.
Earlier this year, scientists successfully revived a tardigrade that had been frozen solid for more than three decades, in a new record for this durable species.
Needless to say, scientists are understandably curious about tardigrades; research into these ancient creatures could tell us something about alien life on other planets, and how we might be able to leverage tardigrade biology in medicine and genetics.