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Anti-Aging: Tardigrade Proteins May Slow Metabolism In Human Cells

2 months, 4 weeks ago

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Posted on Mar 27, 2024, 12 p.m.

Recent research published in the journal Protein Science from researchers at the University of Wyoming reports finding further insight into how tardigrade proteins survive extreme conditions and demonstrates that proteins from the microscopic creatures expressed in human cells can slow down molecular processes, making them potential candidates in technologies that are focused on slowing the aging process and long-term storage of human cells.

According to the researchers, the tardigrade proteins may eventually be used to make life-saving treatments for those where refrigeration is not possible, enhance the storage of cell-based therapies, and advance stem cell research/therapies. 

These tiny proteins are less than half a millimeter long, and they are sometimes called water bears. They can survive the vacuum of outer space, being completely dried out, being frozen to just above absolute zero as well as being heated to more than 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and being irradiated to several thousand times beyond what humans can withstand. These amazing survivors accomplish this by entering a reversible state of suspended animation called biostasis, which involves using proteins that form gels inside of cells and slow down life processes, according to the researchers.

"Amazingly, when we introduce these proteins into human cells, they gel and slow down metabolism, just like in tardigrades," said Sanchez-Martinez, senior research scientist, who came from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to join the UW lab and was the lead author of the paper. "Furthermore, just like tardigrades, 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."

"When the stress is relieved, the tardigrade gels dissolve, and the human cells return to their normal metabolism," said UW’s Department of Molecular Biology Assistant Professor Boothby. "Our findings provide an avenue for pursuing technologies centered on the induction of biostasis in cells and even whole organisms to slow aging and enhance storage and stability.” 

Co-authors of the study are from institutions including the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of California-Merced, the University of Bologna in Italy, and the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

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