3D-rendered illustration of a water bear

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Glass shield may protect water bears from dehydration

Unfazed by extreme heat, radiation, and being blasted into space, the pudgy microscopic predators known as tardigrades (pictured) are champion survivors. Now, researchers may have uncovered the trick behind one of their most impressive feats: their ability to survive droughts by drying up and then rehydrating years or maybe even decades later. Also known as water bears and moss piglets, tardigrades live in aquatic habitats all over the world, so this ability comes in handy when their liquid home evaporates. During the process, they essentially lose all the water in their body and cells. The creatures also start pumping out unique, amorphous proteins that form a glasslike material inside of their cells, researchers report today in Molecular Cell. The material may encase and shelter vital molecules, such as other proteins, until the dry spell is over. The scientists say we might be able to borrow the protective proteins to improve the drought tolerance of crops and to preserve vaccines so that they don’t need to remain frozen or refrigerated.