Tricorder Tech: New Live Imaging Technique Shows How Tardigrades Manage To Survive Dehydration

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
February 1, 2023
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Tricorder Tech: New Live Imaging Technique Shows How Tardigrades Manage To Survive Dehydration
A tardigrade (Hypsibius exemplaris) transfected with fluorescent proteins. – PNAS

Water is essential for life, but anhydrobiotic tardigrades can survive almost complete dehydration.

Anhydrobiosis has been a biological enigma for more than a century with respect to how organisms sustain life without water, but the few choices of genetic toolkits available in tardigrade research have been a challenging circumstance. Here, we report the development of an in vivo expression system for tardigrades.

This transient transgenic technique is based on a plasmid vector (TardiVec) with promoters that originated from an anhydrobiotic tardigrade Ramazzottius varieornatus. It enables the introduction of GFP-fused proteins and genetically encoded indicators such as the Ca2+ indicator GCaMP into tardigrade cells; consequently, the dynamics of proteins and cells in tardigrades may be observed by fluorescence live imaging.

This system is applicable for several tardigrades in the class Eutardigrada: the promoters of anhydrobiosis-related genes showed tissue-specific expression in this work. Surprisingly, promoters functioned similarly between multiple species, even for species with different modes of expression of anhydrobiosis-related genes, such as Hypsibius exemplaris, in which these genes are highly induced upon facing desiccation, and Thulinius ruffoi, which lacks anhydrobiotic capability.

These results suggest that the highly dynamic expression changes in desiccation-induced species are regulated in trans. Tissue-specific expression of tardigrade-unique unstructured proteins also suggests differing anhydrobiosis machinery depending on the cell types. We believe that tardigrade transgenic technology opens up various experimental possibilities in tardigrade research, especially to explore anhydrobiosis mechanisms.


SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.