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Tardigrade protects DNA cloud from radiation

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Tardigrades are unsurpassed “survival specialists.” Environmental conditions do not seem to matter to these microscopic organisms. Scientists find them in hot springs, and in ice , and at the bottom of the ocean.

Tiny invertebrates are not afraid of even extreme drought and radiation. Therefore, it is possible that they will master themselves beyond the borders of our planet.

What allows tardigrades to be so unpretentious and survive even in the least adapted environment for this?

Researchers all over the world have repeatedly asked this question. So, several years ago, scientists found that tardigrades are unique owners of a special protein. Biologists called it Dsup (short for “damage suppression” or “containment of damage”).

Experiments conducted in 2016 showed that this protein saves the genome of microscopic creatures from exposure to radiation.

Interestingly, Dsup was able to protect the culture of human cells from x-ray radiation . However, the mechanism of operation of this “shield” still remained unsolved.

Recently, a team of researchers from the University of California at San Diego, led by James Kadonaga ( James Kadonaga ), received new data explaining the principle of the unique “screening”.

After a series of biochemical analyzes, molecular biologists found that the Dsup protein has a special structure.

It allows him to form a strong bond with chromatin , the basis of chromosomes (recall that the chromosomes are located in the cell nuclei and are a tightly packed DNA chain).

“Now we have a molecular explanation of how Dsup protects cells from x-rays. We found out that the protein consists of two parts. One is associated with chromatin, and the other forms a kind of“ cloud ”that protects DNA from hydroxyl radicals,” commented experiment leader in a university press release .

Let us explain that hydroxyl radicals are reactive oxygen species that have a toxic effect. They are formed in the cell under the action of ionizing radiation, which also includes x-ray radiation.

However, according to experts, small experienced “survivors” are exposed to hydroxyl groups even when drying wet mosses and lichens – the favorite habitat of tardigrades.

Probably, Dsup appeared in the process of their evolution as an instrument of adaptation to these unusual living conditions.

The molecular mechanism discovered by American scientists will certainly help to better understand the biology of tardigrades. But the wonderful Dsup protein also has great potential in terms of medicine and pharmacology.

With its help, specialists will receive long-lived cells that are resistant to harmful effects and will improve modern cell therapy.

In addition, a protective super protein can strengthen and extend the life of certain cell media used in pharmacology. These include, for example, cultures that produce drugs.

You can learn more about the work of the team of Professor Kadonaga on the eLife website.

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