Issue Date: March 20, 2017
Water bears deploy disordered proteins to survive desiccation
Tardigrades, known affectionately as water bears, are microscopic, eight-legged creatures renowned for their ability to live through extreme environmental stresses, including desiccation, freezing, high pressure, radiation exposure, and even the vacuum of space. Intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) may be the key to how tardigrades survive desiccation, according to a new study (Mol. Cell 2017, DOI: 10.1016/j.molcel.2017.02.018). A research team led by Thomas C. Boothby and Gary J. Pielak at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, compared gene expression of hydrated and slowly dried tardigrades. They found that the slowly dried creatures expressed genes for several families of IDPs, which lack well-defined tertiary structure, and that this gene expression is required to survive desiccation. The researchers expressed tardigrade IDP genes in bacteria and yeast and found that the proteins induced desiccation tolerance in those organisms as well. The researchers suggest that IDPs form an amorphous, glasslike matrix in the drying-out tardigrade cells that protects other proteins from denaturation and aggregation.
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