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Exploration - Conan the Bacterium

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165243.  Thu Apr 12, 2007 8:10 am Reply with quote

Undecided on a suitable question - something like:
Q: How will Conan the Bacterium help us get to other planets?

The bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans can withstand a huge amount of radiation compared to practically every other living organism. If we could find out why, we could genetically engineer ourselves to give us similar protection from the lethal doses of radiation found in space, and thus allow us to remove one more barrier from our exploration of the universe.

A recent discovery of the exact mechanism behind 'Conan the Bacterium's ability to survive extreme radiation has now made this a reality.

In 1956, experiments were underway to see if tinned meat would spoil under the seemingly inevitable nuclear wars that were the signature fear of the cold war. Tins of meat (let's call it SPAM, eh?) were subjected to progressively larger and larger amounts of radiation to see what would happen. The meat spoiled, and all the bacteria were 'non viable' except for one. They carried on blasting it, in a cultured solution (don'cha know) until it reached its upper limit: some 2,000 times that which would kill a human.

It's since been found that 'Conan' can withstand extreme heat, cold, vacuum, dehydration and acid, making it a polyextremophile. Possibly the toughest thing living.

Recent research has pinpointed exactly how Conan does it. Radiation shreds DNA, and also the proteins whose 'job' it is to fix DNA damage. Conan has Manganese atoms in its repair protein structure, which nothing else seems to have, and it's this which prevents the proteins from becoming broken, so they are always on hand to fix the radiation-damaged DNA.

One of the recent 'space tourists' has the scientific job of testing to see why the human body reacts to the microgravity of orbit by thinking it has too many red blood cells, and killing lots of them off. Humans inevitably return home from space anaemic. Source.

Link to Extremes


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