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Cell and Organism Engineering group

Dr Alan Tunnacliffe

Research Overview:

The phenomenon of anhydrobiosis ("life without water") was described over 300 years ago by Antony van Leeuwenhoek in relation to certain "animalcules" now known as bdelloid rotifers.

Since that time, life forms capable of surviving extreme desiccation have been recognised in all biological kingdoms and include resurrection plants, invertebrates such as tardigrades, nematodes and bdelloid rotifers, and various micro-organisms including bakers' yeast.

Under certain physiological and environmental conditions, these "anhydro-organisms" are able to survive loss of essentially all their water, adopting a metabolic dormancy in the dried state; they resume their normal metabolic functions on rehydration. When dry, such organisms are highly resistant to environmental challenge, including exposure to extremes of temperature and pressure. This degree of stability has allowed tardigrades, for example, to remain dormant for decades without apparent damage.

Work in Prof. Tunnacliffe's laboratory aims to increase our understanding of anhydrobiosis and to examine possible cell-based applications ("anhydrobiotic engineering").

Research Topics:

Further information:


Cambridge Ideas video series - Just Add Water

Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology news - European Research Council Advanced Investigator Grant

BBC news - Eighty million years without sex

Telegraph - Sex scandal solved by scientists

University of Cambridge news - The benefits of 80 million years without sex


podcasticon Podcast - Cambridge 105 Science Show interview, March 2013
podcasticon Podcast - Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interview with Prof Alan Tunnacliffe, December 2012
PDF Drying without dying - Overview of anhydrobiosis research in the Tunnacliffe lab and its future applications. Reproduced from Research Horizons, with permission.

Podcast - Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interview with Dr. Alan Tunnacliffe.