A team of military medical scientists in China says it has inserted a gene from the microscopic water bear into human embryonic stem cells and significantly increased these cells’ resistance to radiation.
They said success in this unprecedented experiment could lead to super-tough soldiers who could survive nuclear fallout.
From water bear to super soldier
The water bear, also known as tardigrade or moss piglet, is an eight-legged animal smaller than 1 millimetre long and the hardiest creature on Earth. Over years of scientific testing, it has survived -200 degrees Celsius, more than anour hour in boiling water and after flying in space.
The water bear’s toughness comes in part from a gene that can generate shieldlike proteins to protect its cells against radiation and other environmental damage.
The Chinese team said it had found a way to introduce this gene into human DNA using CRISPR/Cas9, a gene-editing tool now available in most bio-labs.
In their laboratory experiment, nearly 90 per cent of the human embryonic cells carrying the water bear gene survived a lethal exposure to X-ray radiation, according to the team led by professor Yue Wen with the radiation biotechnology laboratory at the Academy of Military Sciences, Beijing.
There has been a growing interest in the study since Yue and his colleagues published their findings in the Chinese-language journal Military Medical Sciences in October, according to a Beijing-based life scientist.
“This is amazing, considering the big difference between the water bear and a human,” said the researcher who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the technology.