Scientists discover proteins that protect water bears from radiation

By @vitthernandez on
Tardigrade
Tardigrades are also called water bears or moss piglets, an eight-legged micro-beastie that can survive anything, from dehydration to large radiation doses to space vacuum. YouTube

An Australian family went through a fierce and prolonged court battle to stop doctors from making a six-year-old boy with malignant brain tumour from undergoing radiation therapy. Their move was out of belief of the harmful effect on radiation which scientists just discovered can be protected with a unique protein.

The protein is found only in the tardigrade species whose genome sequence was studied and published by scientists from the University Tokyo in Nature Communications. Tardigrades are also called water bears or moss piglets, an eight-legged micro-beastie that can survive anything, from dehydration to large radiation doses to space vacuum, reports The Washington Post.

A study published by University of North Carolina (UNC) researchers in 2015 says that tardigrades have foreign DNA. These a genes stolen from unrelated organisms using the process horizontal gene transfer. One-sixth of the species’ DNA is from outside sources, twice the previous record of the rotifer, says the study.

The genome sequencing by the Japanese researchers debunked the North Carolina University’s findings since only 1 percent of tardigrade DNA is foreign. One explanation for the disparity with the American study is the possibility of contamination at the laboratory of UNC.

The Tokyo scientists explain that the protein-coated DNA, found only in tardigrades when they sequenced the Ramazzottius varieornatus’s genome, help protect the species’ DNA from radiation exposure and repair any damage done, reports CSMonitor.

The researchers manipulated human cells to produce the tardigrade protein. The culture cells which the Tokyo scientists made had 40 percent less damage from x-ray exposure compared to normal cells. Takekazu Kuneida, lead author of the study, says the findings could be helpful for space flight, radiotherapy and radiation workers in the far future.

VIDEO: First Animal to Survive in Space

Source: VICE

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