Radiation are known to be deadly to humans, as our bodies are not adapted to being blasted by such particles for prolonged periods of time. The same cannot be said by a particular species of bacteria, which can build a shield that withstands massive doses of radiation.
A team of investigators was surprised to find out that the microorganism that only survives in these extreme conditions, but also that it is able to thrive in them.
The group exposed the Deinococcus radiodurans bacteria to sizzling doses of radiation, expecting to see cells mutate, fall apart, and get destroyed.
They were however treated to a totally different sight. The bacteria began building a shield to protect itself against radiation, which left scientists baffled, Science News reports.
The tiny cells began producing small chemical complexes featuring manganese and other chemicals, that were able to engulf all the byproducts that radiation produced in the bacterial colony.
This basically means that, while the radiation did indeed strike the bacteria and produced dangerous substances within, these substances did not have any discernible effect of the cells themselves.
A detailed account of the new study appears in the September 3 issue of the respected open-access journal PLoS ONE, a publication of the Public Library of Science.
But undoubtedly one of the most interesting aspects of the investigation was discovering the fact that the shield seemed more intent to protect certain proteins than genetic material such as DNA.
“What really got us excited is that these compounds only protect proteins, not DNA. The key to survival is protecting these proteins,” says Michael Daly.
The expert is a coauthor of the new paper, and he is based in Bethesda, Maryland, at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.
He explains that the protective elements D. radiodurans features can also be introduced into Escherichia coli cells, as well as in human blood cells.
When this happens, the normally-sensitive cells are turned into supercells, that can also withstand the devastating side-effects of radiation.
Since the bacteria was first discovered, back in 1956, researchers learned that it can withstand radiation levels of up to 1,000 times those required to kill a fully-grown human.
The new data could be used to create advanced, radiation-resistant bacteria for radioactive cleanup efforts. They microorganisms could endure for longer periods of time, and also be more efficient.