To survive extreme drying (anhydrobiosis), many organisms, spanning every kingdom of life, accumulate intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs). For decades, the ability of anhydrobiosis-related IDPs to form transient amphipathic helices has been suggested to be important for promoting desiccation tolerance. However, evidence empirically supporting the necessity and/or sufficiency of helicity in mediating anhydrobiosis is lacking. Here, we demonstrate that the linker region of CAHS D, a desiccation-related IDP from the tardigrade Hypsibius exemplaris, that contains significant helical structure, is the protective portion of this protein. Perturbing the sequence composition and grammar of the linker region of CAHS D, through the insertion of helix-breaking prolines, modulating the identity of charged residues, or replacement of hydrophobic amino acids with serine or glycine residues results in variants with different degrees of helical structure. Importantly, correlation of protective capacity and helical content in variants generated through different helix perturbing modalities does not show as strong a trend, suggesting that while helicity is important, it is not the only property that makes a protein protective during desiccation. These results provide direct evidence for the decades-old theory that helicity of desiccation-related IDPs is linked to their anhydrobiotic capacity.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere4872
JournalProtein Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • CAHS
  • anhydrobiosis
  • dehydration
  • desiccation tolerance
  • disordered protein
  • helicity
  • tardigrade


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