In the world of nature, resurrection is more than a spiritual concept. So-called resurrection desert plants can dry up and remain seemingly lifeless for years only to revive after rains. Brine shrimp embryos, better known as "sea monkeys", have a similar life cycle. The common link between these organisms is that their cells contain large amounts of a sugar called trehalose. In the absence of water, trehalose seems to preserve proteins--keeping their structure intact.
Scientists at Quadrant Research, a biotech startup in Cambridge, England, are using the sugar to produce dried vaccines and red blood cells that can be stored for years and then rehydrated before use. Polio vaccine is the first target. To remian viable, it now must be kept at very low tempertures--a problem for Third World countries. The World Health Organization is working with Quadrant on a dried version, and human trials could begin in two years, says Dr. Bruce J. Roser, scientific director of the company.
Roser also envisions slipping the gene that's key in producting trehalose into crops. That could keep them in "suspended animation" during droughts, he says.