5 Of The Craziest Experiments Tardigrades Have Survived In The Name Of Science

Colored scanning electron micrograph, or SEM, of a tardigrade.STEVE GSCHMEISSNER/SCIENTIFIC PHOTO LIBRARY

  • Tardigrades are hardy microscopic creatures known for their ability to withstand extreme conditions.

  • Water bears can go years without food or water and endure radiation and extreme temperatures.

  • From blasting off into space to firing a gun, they have served science explosively.

Strangely adorable tiny creatures called tardigrades are one of the toughest organisms on Earth.

Tardigrades, perhaps better known as water bears because of their plump bodies, belong to a group of extremely hardy microorganisms that can thrive in harsh, unsuitable environments for life. To survive, they squeeze water from their bodies and roll themselves into dehydrated balls called barrels.

In this form, tardigrades can withstand the most extreme environments, even the vacuum of space. As barrels, these microscopic creatures can go years without food or water and endure extreme radiation and temperatures.

This hardy nature makes them perfect test subjects in experiments on the tenacity of life. From being shot down by a gun to crash-landing on the moon, these are five notable moments when tardigrades have proven themselves in the name of science.

SEM micrograph of a water bear

Water bear SEM.Cultura RM/Gregory S. Paulson Exclusive

1. Aquatic Tardigrades Became Spatial Test Subjects

Scientists hope to find out what makes these little creatures nearly indestructible. They are really small – they vary from 100 to 1000 microns, as small as the height of a sheet of paper.

In 2021, NASA sent 5,000 tardigrades into space on a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. “We want to see what ‘tricks’ they use to survive when they arrive in space and, over time, what tricks their offspring use,” Thomas Boothby, the experiment’s principal investigator, said in a statement. The NASA.

In 2007, a European team of researchers sent 3,000 tardigrades into orbit around the earth outside a spacecraft for 12 days. When the water bears returned to Earth, scientists found that 68% had survived.

“Our main conclusion is that the vacuum of space, which leads to extreme dehydration and cosmic radiation, was not a problem for the water bears,” said Ingemar Jönsson, project manager of the European experiment, in a communicated.

2. Tardigrades have crashed on the moon

In April 2019, an Israeli lunar probe crashed into the Moon while carrying thousands of dehydrated tardigrades on board.

Many have speculated that the water bears may have survived the crash. “We think the odds of the tardigrades surviving are extremely high,” Nova Spivack, co-founder of the organization that put the tardigrades into space, told BBC News.

According to Wired, any tardigrade found in the future should be brought back to Earth to be rehydrated on a planet with an atmosphere.

SEM image of a tardigrade, taken November 16, 2012.

SEM image of a tardigrade, taken November 16, 2012.Schokraie E, Warnken U, Hotz-Wagenblatt A, Grohme MA, Hengherr S, et al. (2012)

3. A thawed tardigrade survived freezing for 3 decades

In 2016, scientists from Japan’s National Polar Research Institute examined tardigrades extracted from a sample of frozen moss taken from Antarctica in 1983.

After rehydrating them, the researchers managed to revive a tardigrade frozen for more than 30 years. Additionally, researchers have found that tardigrades can reproduce successfully after decades in freezing conditions.

According to laboratory experiments, tardigrades survive even at -458 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s more than twice as cold as the coldest temperature ever observed on Earth’s surface, according to NASA.

4. Creatures endured scorching temperatures

Tardigrades can survive extremely hot temperatures, and you’ll find them in some of Earth’s most extreme environments, like deep sea vents, hot springs, and mud volcanoes.

Yet, in a 2020 study, researchers found that long-term exposure to high temperatures, even in their hibernating state, can kill tardigrades in a single day. In the study, after being exposed to water temperatures of around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, half of the tardigrades in the research sample died.

“We had found their Achilles heel,” Ricardo Neves, the study’s lead researcher, told Newsweek.


Microscopic image of a water bear.Philippe Garcelon

5. Tardigrades survived being fired from a high-velocity pistol

Some scientists believe that tardigrades may be able to spread life to different planets.

In a 2021 study, researchers loaded a nylon bullet with hibernating tardigrades and fired them at a sand target at different speeds. The creatures survived by crashing into targets at speeds of up to around 2,000 mph, but those shot down at faster speeds collapsed on impact.

They wanted to test whether a tardigrade could survive a cosmic impact, such as a meteorite landing on Earth, as it would lend credence to the idea that life might be able to hitchhike across the cosmos.

“If they could do it and they’re the hardest thing we know of, right? Maybe other things can,” said experiment supervisor Mark Burchell. , in a press release. “[B]But if they can’t do it, and they’re the hardest thing we know of, then maybe nothing else can either.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

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