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Understanding how tardigrades withstand radiation

US research has revealed how microscopic, eight-legged animals, called tardigrades, often considered the most indestructible animals on Earth, survive extreme levels of radiation. 

Commonly found on moss, tardigrades, also called water bears, are renowned for being able to endure extreme environments fatal to other forms of life. These creatures can survive even if they are completely dehydrated, withstand the vacuum of space, and resist levels of radiation multiple times higher than the lethal dose for humans. 

Researchers, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, set out to understand tardigrade survival mechanisms and exposed them to high levels of gamma-ray radiation. 

They found that these animals activated a strong DNA repair response - after exposure to very high radiation levels - by rapidly activating DNA repair genes, effectively reversing the radiation damage within 24 hours. 

Clark-Hachtel, from the research team led by Bob Goldstein, at Chapel Hill, stated:  “What we are learning about how tardigrades overcome radiation stress can lead to new ideas about how we might try to protect other animals and microorganisms from damaging radiation.”

The study was published in Current Biology.

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