If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.


Biological Chemistry

Water bears deploy disordered proteins to survive desiccation

Proteins expressed by tardigrades also induce drying tolerance when expressed in bacteria and yeast

by Jyllian Kemsley
March 20, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 12

Micrograph of several dried tardigrades on a surface.
Credit: Thomas C. Boothby/UNC Chapel Hill
Several slowly dried tardigrades in their desiccated “tun” state.

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.


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.