The loss of cellular water (desiccation) and the resulting low cytosolic water activity are major stress factors for life. Numerous prokaryotic and eukaryotic taxa have evolved molecular and physiological adaptions to periods of low water availability or water-limited environments that occur across the terrestrial Earth. The changes within cells during the processes of desiccation and rehydration, from the activation (and inactivation) of biosynthetic pathways to the accumulation of compatible solutes, have been studied in considerable detail. However, relatively little is known on the metabolic status of organisms in the desiccated state; that is, in the sometimes extended periods between the drying and rewetting phases. During these periods, which can extend beyond decades and which we term ‘anhydrobiosis’, organismal survival could be dependent on a continued supply of energy to maintain the basal metabolic processes necessary for critical functions such as macromolecular repair. Here, we review the state of knowledge relating to the function of microorganisms during the anhydrobiotic state, highlighting substantial gaps in our understanding of qualitative and quantitative aspects of molecular and biochemical processes in desiccated cells.
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics