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Water bears are genetic mash-ups

Tardigrade species swipes DNA chunks from other organisms

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8:00am, November 25, 2015
water bear

NO WATER, NO PROBLEM  Known as water bears, tardigrades (one seen under a light microscope) are famous for withstanding desiccation. Drying out allows the animals to absorb DNA from other organisms, which may confer stress tolerance.

Water bears may be the ultimate borrowers.

The hardy, microscopic animals also known as moss piglets and technically called tardigrades have scavenged about 17.5 percent of their genes from other creatures. The ability to pick up used genes and spare parts from other organisms’ DNA junkyards may allow tardigrades to survive extreme stress, such as desiccation, radiation and even a trip to space and back, researchers report online November 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Bacteria routinely swap DNA, a process known as horizontal gene transfer. But researchers had thought the practice was unusual in animals. Only strange, asexual animals called bdelloid rotifers were known to grab significant amounts of DNA from other life.

So when biologist Thomas Boothby of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and colleagues discovered bacterial genes

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