Indestructible Tardigrade Proteins Could Slow Aging In Humans, Scientists Say

Proteins found in tardigrades could potentially be a key ingredient in slowing the aging process in humans, researchers claim. 

However, it will take more work to show these proteins are a veritable fountain of youth — for now, the scientists have only early hints from lab-dish experiments.

Tardigrades also known as water bears, they are near-microscopic, eight-legged creatures known for their practically super hero-like ability to withstand extreme conditions, including tolerating a severe lack of water, surviving in outer space and emerging unscathed from being fired from a gun. 

To survive such conditions, water bears transform into dehydrated balls and dial their metabolisms to near zero.

Researchers have discovered that proteins found in these tiny creatures can also slow metabolism in human cells in lab dishes, according to a research published March 19 in the journal Protein Science.

For the study, scientists focused on a tardigrade protein called CAHS D, which transforms into a gel-like consistency when introduced to human cells.

"Amazingly, when we introduce these proteins into human cells, they gel and slow down metabolism, just like in tardigrades," lead research author Silvia Sanchez Martinez, a senior scientist in the Department of Molecular Biology at the University of Wyoming, said in a stat.

"Just like water-bears, when you put human cells that have these proteins into biostasis, they become more resistant to stresses, conferring some of the tardigrades' abilities to the human cells."

Biostasis is a state of suspended animation in which organisms can tolerate unfavorable environmental changes, such as surviving for long periods without water. The researchers have now demonstrated that the proteins that make biostasis possible in water-bears can have a similar impact on human cells.

Researchers think this new finding could eventually be harnessed to make lifesaving treatments available to people in locations where refrigeration is unavailable and to improve the storage of cell-based therapies.

"Our findings provide an avenue for pursuing technologies centered on the induction of biostasis in cells and even whole organisms (such as humans) to slow aging and enhance storage and stability," the scientists wrote in the new study. The research may even shed light on slowing down the aging process. 

Amazingly, the scientists also found that the whole process is reversible, meaning the cells' metabolism can reset back to normal after slowing.

"When the stress is relieved, the tardigrade gels dissolve, and the human cells return to their normal metabolism," study author Thomas Boothby, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology at the University of Wyoming, said in the stat.

Boothby and his team have been studying water-bears extensively in their lab. Last year, they found that tardigrade proteins can be used to stabilize a drug used to treat hemophilia, a bleeding disorder.