Imagine an animal that can withstand temperatures ranging from -272 °C to about 150 °C, surviving in a radiation environment or even in space. This animal is the smallest animal on Earth, but one of the most durable: tardigrades. (water bears).
What are Tardigrades?
Tardigrades are creatures with 4 pairs of short legs and belong to the branch of invertebrate animals. There are about 1,300 species of tardigrades worldwide. The dimensions of these animals, which look just like miniature bears, can reach about 0.5 mm in length when fully bred. Although their preferred habitat is usually algae and lichens, they have been observed in all kinds of environments from the deep seas to the dunes to the poles. They have brains, eyes and digestive system, but no heart and lungs. Now let’s talk about the harsh conditions under which these animals survived and how they managed to do so.
The Superpower of the Tardigrades
Tardigrades can live in most conditions, mainly high and low temperature, pressure environment, dehydrated environment, high radiation, which are conditions that most other creatures cannot withstand. They can live at the bottom of a deep sea pit, in a container filled with boiling water, even in cold and radiationy vacuums of space. They can even starve for up to 30 years. And how do they endure these conditions that most creatures, including us, can’t stand for a moment? Their endurance is partly due to the dsup protein, a protein specific to tardigrades. Dsup is a tardigrade-specific, DNA-associated protein that suppresses the formation of radiation and DNA fractures. Dsup suppresses X-ray DNA damage by about 40% and increases tolerance to radiation. Another surprising survival trick is cryptobise, a state of inactivity triggered by a dry environment. Micro animals squeeze all the water out of their bodies, pulling back their heads and limbs, becoming a small ball and staying asleep. They go into a half-dead state and move their metabolic rate closer to zero. When they return to an environment of normal conditions, they can go back to the way they were and move on as if nothing had happened.
So why is this our business?
The durability of tardigrades has been tested by many experiments. Even in the space environment, they managed to survive. It is thought that this resilience may be the key to human survival, or even a nice start to the path to immortality if we look at it a little more extravagantly. What we have learned from ongoing research on Tardigrades predicts that these animals will bring significant benefits to prolonging our life expectancy or even in our survival in the vacuum of space.