Merrillville Community Planetarium
Bringing the Universe to the Merrillville Schools and Northwest Indiana

Dsup and Tardigrades

Tardigrades are the little microscopic animals that are resilient in extreme environments. They can withstand freezing cold, deadly chemicals, dehydration, and extreme radiation. Some are now on the moon thanks to the crash of a spacecraft this year. Scientists have been studying their unusual biology and are learning ways to improve the safety of being in space for humans in the future.

The most important discovery has been their resilience to radiation. Radiation mixes with water in living cells to make dangerous molecules called hydroxyl radicals. Hydroxyl radicals react or alter the first molecule they encounter. If it interacts with the DNA, it can change the genetic code and in turn cause certain types of cancer. All life forms are susceptible to this type of radiation damage, except tardigrades.

Tardigrades protect themselves with a protein called Dsup, or Damage suppression protein. The protein wraps around their cells DNA bundles, called chromatin. Dsup binds to the chromatin, forming a protective shield that blocks the hydroxyl radicals.

One day, scientists may be able to create the Dsup protein and use it in some way to protect other life forms from radiation and its effects.