Some eukaryotes, including bdelloid rotifer species, are able to withstand desiccation by entering a state of suspended animation. In this ametabolic condition, known as anhydroblosis, they can remain viable for extended periods, perhaps decades, but resume normal activities on rehydration. Anhydrobiosis is thought to require accumulation of the non-reducing disaccharides trehalose (in animals and fungi) or sucrose (in plant seeds and resurrection plants), which may protect proteins and membranes by acting as water replacement molecules and vitrifying agents. However, in clone cultures of bdelloid rotifers Philodina roseola and Adineta vaga, we were unable to detect trehalose or other disaccharides in either control or dehydrating animals, as determined by gas chromatography. Indeed, trehalose synthase genes (tps) were not detected in these rotifer genomes, suggesting that bdelloids might not have the capacity to produce trehalose under any circumstances. This is in sharp contrast to other anhydrobiotic animals such as nematodes and brine shrimp cysts, where trehalose is present during desiccation. Instead, we suggest that adaptations involving proteins might be more important than those involving small biochemicals in rotifer anhydrobiosis: on dehydration, P. roseola upregulates a hydrophilic protein related to the late embryogenesis abundant (LEA) proteins associated with desiccation tolerance in plants. Since LEA-like proteins have also been implicated in the desiccation tolerance of nematodes and micro-organisms, it seems that hydrophilic protein biosynthesis represents a common element of anhydroblosis across several biological kingdoms.
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