Tardigrades, also known as water bears, have caught the eye of many biologists due to their immense resilience and their ability to survive under extreme conditions. Tardigrades have been able to survive extreme temperatures, extreme pressures, oxygen deprivation, radiation, starvation, dehydration, and even the vacuum of outer space.

SEM image of Milnesium tardigradum in active state - journal.pone.0045682.g001-2

Among these phenomenons, their ability to survive while dehydrated has caused great confusion for scientists for many years. Recently, however, new research has been done at the University of Wyoming to help understand how Tardigrades are able to survive in a dried out state.

For a long time Scientists thought that Tardigrades did not possess the sugar molecule called Trehalose. Trehalose is usually the molecule found in organisms that can survive with a lack of water, however scientists had not found any evidence of Trehalose in Tardigrades until now. In October of 2022 scientists have finally found trace amounts of Trehalose in tardigrades, only less than the amount found in other organisms.

Trehalose is a disaccharide consisting of two molecules of glucose. It has very high water retention capabilities which is why organisms that synthesize it are able to survive with a lack of water. As we learned in AP BIO, because Trehalose is a disaccharide, the two molecules of glucose were formed together through a process called dehydration synthesis. (the removal of a water molecule to join two monomers) The resulting chemical formula for this would be C12H22O11 instead of C12H24O12 because of the removal of the water molecule. 

Now, with this new information scientists hope that better understanding tardigrades and their synergy with trehalose can help solve problems of water scarcity throughout the world. Understanding Trehalose could help with farming in areas of the world that don’t naturally get the water they need. By applying the adaptation abilities of tardigrades to organisms that wouldn’t otherwise survive under harsh conditions, trehalose could be a massive step in better crop engineering in harsh environments across the world. According to the national library of medicine, “Increasing trehalose accumulation in crop plants could improve drought and salinity tolerance.” An example of this working has already been proven in this study with rice. The scientists had a control plant that wasn’t transformed with trehalose, and several independent transgenic rice plants. The evidence showed that when the rice was fused with trehalose it “exhibited sustained plant growth, less photo-oxidative damage, and more favorable mineral balance under salt, drought, and low-temperature stress conditions.” All of these things make for an interesting future in the world of engineered crops.

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