Cryptobiosis: A new theoretical perspective

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29 Scopus citations


The tardigrade is a microscopic creature that under environmental stress conditions undergoes cryptobiosis [Feofilova, E.P., 2003. Deceleration of vital activity as a universal biochemical mechanism ensuring adaptation of microorganisms to stress factors: A review. Appl. Biochem. Microbiol. 39, 1-18; Nelson, D.R., 2002. Current status of the tardigrada: Evolution and ecology. Integrative Comp. Biol. 42, 652-659]-a temporary metabolic depression-which is considered to be a third state between life and death [Clegg, J.S., 2001. Cryptobiosis-a peculiar state of biological organization. Comp. Biochem. Physiol. Part B 128, 613-624]. In contrast with death, cryptobiosis is a reversible state, and as soon as environmental conditions change, the tardigrade "returns to life." Cryptobiosis in general, and among the tardigrade in particular, is a phenomenon poorly understood [Guppy, M., 2004. The biochemistry of metabolic depression: a history of perceptions. Comp. Biochem. Physiol. Part B 139, 435-442; Schill, R.O., et al., 2004. Stress gene (hsp70) sequences and quantitative expression in Milensium tardigradum (Tardigrade) during active and cryptobiotic stages. J. Exp. Biol. 207, 1607-1613; Watanabe, M., et al., 2002. Mechanisn allowing an insect to survive complete dehydration and extreme temperatures. J. Exp. Biol. 205, 2799-2802; Wright, J.C., 2001. Cryptobiosis 300 years on from van Leuwenhoek: what have we learned about tardigrades? Zool. Anz. 240, 563-582]. Moreover, the ability of the tardigrade to bootstrap itself and to return to life seems paradoxical like the legendary Baron von Munchausen who pulled himself out of the swamp by grabbing his own hair. Two theoretical obstacles prevent us from advancing our knowledge of cryptobiosis. First, we lack appropriate theoretical understanding of reversible processes of biological computation in living systems. Second, we lack appropriate theoretical understanding of bootstrapping in living systems. In this short opinion article, I would like to present the idea that although cryptobiosis is obscure from a certain point of view, it makes sense within a scientific perspective suggesting that "organization becomes cause in the matter" [Strohman, R.C., 2000. Organization becomes cause in the matter. Nat. Biotechnol. 18, 575-576]. I present Bateson's idea that organisms have a "recursive hierarchical" form of organization [Neuman, Y., 2004. Meaning making in the immune system. Perspect. Biol. Med. 48, 320-327; Neuman, Y., in press. A theory of meaning. Inform. Sci.] and suggest that this form of organization allows bootstrapping through reversible process of computation as discussed by theoretical physicists [Bennett, C.H., 1982. The thermodynamics of computation-a review. Int. J. Theoret. Phys. 1, 905-940; Landauer and Bennett, 1985].

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258-267
Number of pages10
JournalProgress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2006


  • Boundary
  • Cryptobiosis
  • Physics of computation
  • Recursive-hierarchy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Molecular Biology


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