TechUnraveling the mystery: How water bears defy deadly radiation

Unraveling the mystery: How water bears defy deadly radiation

Unraveling the mystery: How water bears defy deadly radiation
Images source: © Wikimedia Commons

6:13 AM EDT, April 19, 2024

Water bears, known for their unmatched resilience, can survive up to 100 years without water. This remarkable survival ability extends to enduring extreme radiation, a feat that has puzzled scientists. The explanation for their radiation resistance sheds light on the unique biological mechanisms of these tiny creatures.

Tardigrades, microscopic invertebrates measuring between 0.004 to 0.05 inches, captivate scientists with their ability to thrive under harsh conditions. Recent research shows that water bears can withstand temperatures as high as 302 degrees Fahrenheit, pressures over 87,022 psi, prolonged droughts, and even the vacuum of space. This resilience is driven by their unique biological adaptations, which now include a newfound mechanism for surviving intense radiation.

Organisms resistant to radiation

A study published in "Current Biology" reveals that water bears endure radiation levels 1000 times higher than lethal for humans. Initially, researchers attributed this resistance to a specific protein, Dsup, which protects DNA from radiation damage. This protein, however, is not found in all tardigrade species, suggesting an alternate protective mechanism.

In their research, scientists focused on the species Hypsibius exemplaris, known to possess Dsup. When subjected to extreme radiation doses, including those lethal to other organisms, the response of these water bears was astonishing.
"What we saw surprised us. The tardigrades are doing something we hadn’t expected," stated Bob Goldstein from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The study revealed that Hypsibius exemplaris could rapidly increase the production of genes responsible for DNA repair following radiation exposure. Within 24 hours, most of the radiation-induced DNA damage was repaired, showcasing an extraordinary capacity for genetic recovery.

These findings suggest that tardigrades possess an innate ability to detect ionizing radiation and immediately activate a defense mechanism. This remarkable survival strategy highlights the unique biology of water bears and may pave the way for developing new protective measures against radiation for other organisms.

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