By taking a cue from nature, biologists are working to create dehydrated blood and vaccine supplies that could last months—even years—in a suspended state, then be reanimated simply by adding water. John Crowe, a biologist at the University of California, Davis, studies special organisms that can survive without water—a feat known as anhydrobiosis. In this class of animals, a simple sugar known as trehalose is manufactured when water supplies dwindle. The sugar preserves the structural integrity of the animals’ cells such that, when water returns, the animal can simply pick up where it left off.
What’s the Big Idea?
By mixing the simple sugar trehalose with blood platelets, Crowe has created a freeze-dried source of blood that, when mixed with water, retains 90 percent of its blood cells. The solution is currently being tested and is expected to be ready for use in two years. “Meanwhile, others are using trehalose to preserve DNA in a dry state or create dry vaccines that do not need to be refrigerated. Shelf-stable and easy to transport, such vaccines could be shipped to even the most remote corners of the globe, expanding access to a crucial tool of public health.”