Humans are fragile creatures. They are optimized to survive in narrow temperature and pressure ranges, as well as under near-constant atmospheric conditions. Other animals, however, can endure even the most hostile conditions. Tardigrades are barely 1 mm long when fully grown and have been found in deserts, in toxic hot springs, on top of the highest mountains and at the bottom of the deepest oceans. They can even survive the radiation and vacuum of outer space that would almost instantly kill every other organism. To persist in such conditions, tardigrades enter a reversible, ametabolic state called cryptobiosis. How these tiny organisms achieve this apparent miracle is not fully understood.
Developing a fundamental understanding of tardigrade cryptobiosis could have far reaching impact, as Adrià Nogales explains: “By studying cryptobiosis in these tiny animals, they could potentially teach us how to store biological material while preserving its integrity or viability”. In his PhD project Adrià is using electron microscopy to understand the ultrastructure of the cryptobiotic state and, with the aid of proteomics, he aims to elucidate the molecular mechanisms behind tardigrade cryptobiosis.
Adrià is originally from Spain and studied in Lleida and Barcelona. He joined Alwin Köhler’s lab in 2018. With his Impact Award he wants to raise awareness of his research field in the general public. He has written a children’s book on tardigrades and hopes to foster multidisciplinary collaborations within the University of Vienna and with organizations outside the research community. The inspiration for his scientific outreach came during the pandemic-imposed lockdowns: “Talking to my family, and especially my goddaughter, I noticed that many people have no idea what scientists actually do”, he says. Adrià has also started a YouTube channel where he explains general scientific topics to a lay audience. His motivation? “As scientists, I think it is our duty to inform the public about our work. I want to help give a voice to researchers”.