Anhydrobiosis: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Ebony Potts

Ebony has taught middle and high school physical science, life science & biology. She's also been an assistant principal and has a doctorate in educational administration.

Have you ever heard the word anhydrobiosis before? In this lesson you will learn the definition of this word, as well as some organisms that possess this unique ability.

Unfavorable Conditions

You are sitting in your AP calculus class. You love your teacher as well as your class, but you just did not get the chance to study and you have a test today. Things have been less than perfect this week. You have not been sleeping well, and you've had so many projects due. You are feeling the pressure.

Today in biology, Dr. Potts talked to your class about anhydrobiosis. You didn't even know that such a process was possible. You wish you were able to perform anhydrobiosis. You would ''freeze'' yourself before this exam and come back out when conditions were more favorable. Two months from now would be great!


Just like the student in the introduction, there are times in any organism's life where things in its environment become tough. Sometimes things become so tough that it is hard for the organism to survive.

All organisms have certain requirements in order to be able to survive. At the top the list of living requirements are usually water and a favorable temperature range. When water becomes less available and/or the temperature gets too cold or hot, some organisms have the ability to go through anhydrobiosis.

The word anhydrobiosis means 'life without water' in Greek. Anhydrobiosis is a process in which an organism becomes almost completely dry and dormant until living conditions improve. During the process, all of the organism's tissues and cells become stable and they are able to avoid what could be lethal damage to their bodies caused by the extreme conditions. Scientist have revived organisms living in this state by providing the organism with ideal water and temperature levels. In doing so, they have discovered organisms that have been in this dormant state for up to 120 years!

Scientist are not completely sure how organisms are able to enter this state for such an extended period of time. However, they do have two hypotheses, or ideas about how they think it occurs. The first hypothesis is that organisms replace areas in their bodies where water was once present with proteins and sugars. The other hypothesis is that the organism's cells enter a biological ''glass-like'' state, and areas where water once existed become almost solid.

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