SELF-HEALER
Deinococcus Radiodurans

The Deincococcus Radiodurans is a polyextremophile: an organism that can survive in multiple extreme environments. This specific bacterium is known to be outstandingly resistant to about everything that is highly dangerous for humans, such as extreme cold, dehydration, vacuum and acid.
Moreover, it can easily withstand the thousandfold of a human’s lethal dose of radiation – which earned the ‘Radioactive Man’ a well-deserved entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for ‘most radiation-resistant lifeform’.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
The D. Radiodurans can withstand these extreme environments, just because it has multiple copies of all it’s genes at any point in time. Depending on it’s state of growth, it can have 4 to 10 copies of each gene. These copies work similarly to making a back up of a computer: when something goes wrong or is destroyed, you make it work again by restoring it from the back up. For the D. Radiodurans, this basically means it can glue itself back together after being demolished by anything.

WHY SYNTHESIZE THIS?
The Deinococcus Radiodurans has already been genetically engineered to treat contaminated media such as water (bioremediation), making use of its capability to digest solvents and heavy metal. However, we think that scientists are missing out on the qualities this organism’s DNA has by only focusing on treating contaminated media. Finding the genes or proteins that cause the “back up copies” and shaping these into a new BioBrick will give scientists and bioengineers a whole range of new opportunities. For instance, they could engineer an organism that can function in an environment in which it would be very useful, but that could not function there without the BioBrick because of the extreme conditions.
In China, a group of scientists was experimenting with creating a highly radiation-resistant E.Coli by inserting a certain protein from the D. Radiodurans in 2005. So far, they were not completely successful, but their research made clear that further research on this protein will certainly be fruitful.

FUN FACTS:

  • Translating Deinococcus Radiodurans to English gives us the name “strange little berry that withstands radiation”.
  • The smooth, pink colonies of this four-celled spherical bacteria are mostly found in organic materials like soil, feces, and meat. However, the bacteria are also found in rather sterile habitats such as on medical instruments.

Image courtesy: Artis MICROPIA