Not immortal but an insignificant creature that can survive extreme conditions: Tardigrades

Planet earth has been the home for a number of species, from micro species to giant animals, it has diverse living creatures. Some being adaptive to the changing conditions survive, while some become extinct. From a tiny creature to a giant one every species is having different traits and features. But it is surprising to know that there is a tiny creature that can survive in extreme conditions and is known as the toughest creature on the earth. The extreme weather conditions, being it boiling water to icy cold, no matter whether they have water or food to survive for life, but still they can manage and live a longer life.

That’s surprising!!!!

The extreme conditions which would certainly kill us, but they enter a dormant state to allow survival. Almost indestructible, they are the only animal that can survive the vacuum of space.

The creature is Tardigrade and is very often known as water bear since they resemble to a bear or piglet. One will be amazed to know that Tardigrades can continue to survive in extreme hot or cold conditions that is as hot as more than 300 degrees F or as cold as minus 328 degrees F and can even survive extreme pressure and has a lifespan for a very long time in adverse conditions also.

History of evolution of Tardigrades: Let’s explore when they were known

The more tardigrades are studied, the more complex they appear to be. Being one of the individual species know for surviving the extreme conditions make them very ancient. It has been said that the fossils of tardigrades were found over 500 million years ago. That is, they have been related to the Cambrian period when actually the first complex animals were developing. After the discovery of such fact, it was understood that they were different from the others and were really special. German zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze in 1773 was the first who described Tardigrades and called them little water bears. After a few years it was discovered that they have superpowers by the Italian clergyman and scientist Lazzaro Spallanzani. Later that Spallanzani observed under a microscope by adding water to sediment from a rain gutter that there were hundreds of tardigrades inside it. Earlier in 1702, Dutch scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek also observed under microscope and found these creatures swimming and crawling in the water.

Other facts that was known about tardigrades was that they can survive without water and this was known in the year 1948 when an Italian zoologist Tina Franceschi stated that tardigrades were found from a 120 years museum samples in dried moss that could be reanimated. When they were rehydrating, it was seen that one of front legs of tardigrades were moving. It proved that they can even survive for so long time without water and other basic.

Know what Tardigrades are?

Tardigrades are tiny, insects like creature covered in a tough cuticle and is virtually indestructible. About 13,000 species of tardigrades are found worldwide. They have eight legs and hands with four to eight claws on each which help them to move around. This tiny adorable species has one of the extraordinary features that they are almost indestructible and can even stay alive in outer space. They are microscopic animals that can even survive in boiling water, at deep-sea trench or even in the cold, dark vacuum of space.

Tardigrades are closely related to insects and crustaceans but they look similar like pigs or bears. Therefore, they are also called “Water bears”. They have eight stubby legs, long and plump bodies. Tardigrades are semi-aquatic creatures. They can be found in both watery as well as terrestrial environments. They can survive in oceans, lakes, mountains, forests and even in sand dunes. There is no place where their presence cannot be seen; from glaciers to active lava fields, they are everywhere in existence. However, they are commonly found living in moss.

Now, you may be wondering what they eat? These tiny tardigrades eat:

  • Algae
  • Flowering plants
  • Piercing plant cells

Some of the tardigrades are carnivorous and they can even eat other tardigrades. Many scientists even mention that it is possible that tardigrades may have been the first animals to settle on dry land leaving the ocean. There has been no fact yet known that Tardigrades pose threat to humans. Still the scientists are striving to identify the species of tardigrade that can spreads disease.It is even accepted that there are hundreds of species belonging to Tardigrada that may have existence for so long time from the day sun might have started to shine.  Just because of these reasons and their ability to continue to survive in such extreme conditions, this has drawn the attention of scientists and they even say that tardigrades can be key to human survival in the future times. Even many researches are being going on tardigrades that will surely help humans to stay alive and search life in outer space even.

There have been many assumptions about what is the source behind such a different trait that these creatures possess.  Some of the studies state that “the secret to this tiny creature’s strength is somewhat that is called cryptobiosis. It is a process which almost completely shuts down all metabolic processes during extreme circumstances.

Facts about Tardigrades that would astound you:

  • They are eight-legged micro-animals, born with all cells. These cells don’t divide but they just expand. They are water dwelling
  • Their size is about 0.5 mm and they can be found literally anywhere
  • Withstand temps from 1K to 420K (-272° C to 150°C)
  • They can withstand pressures from vacuum to bottom of oceans
  • They can live without food & water for 30+ years
  • They can withstand 5000 Gray of radiation while the humans dies at 5 Gray
  • They can withstand environmental toxins
  • They survive in the dried state in acid and solvents
  • Have are found in the earth with an existence for 530 million years
  • They lay strange eggs that look like works of art
  • They have perfect muscle control and move like higher animal species
  • They show signs of youth and old age

Tardigrades are considered as Nature’s toughest animal and let’s see what are the reasons for the same:

  • A great and strong survival feature in tough environment: Whether it is boiling water, solid ice or the intense radiation of space, tardigrades can survive in every situation. His life can be same even in a desert without a drop of water or in the deepest trenches of the sea. An environment that can even kill the other creatures, in that environment these creatures can successfully survive there.

  • The smallest creature: Measure about less than 1.5 millimeters long, they are one of the smallest creatures in the earth. They can remain hidden, unnoticed by many predators in sediments and seas

  • Useful in research works and Survival in space: These creatures are very useful in research work. They are being used to travel into the space and even there also they can survive. Exposed to open space conditions, most of them survived exposure to vacuum and cosmic rays, with some even surviving deadly levels of UV radiation. They can survive to extreme heat, cold, pressure and radiation. They came back alive and healthy after being frozen, dehydrated and exposed to ionising radiation. They are the first known animals to survive in space conditions.

  • Small but fierce:  Although they are smallest creature in the nature, but are fierce. Their mouths contain a sharp dagger that acts like a strong weapon. The dagger-like teeth is used by them to spear algae and even other small animals.

  • Metabolism and unique set of genes: They are the only creature that can survive without food or water for more than 30 years. The reason for such great characteristic is that they can withholdtheir metabolism and live like a lifeless creature till the conditions become favorable to them.Scientists have found out that, they posses exceptional set of genes that are acquired from a variety of other life forms through the process of horizontal gene transfer during their evolution.
  • A new fact has been found out which states that they have a very unique protein in their DNA and that perform the work of a radiation shield.They’ve been around longer than nearly every other living organism.
  • It is also found that tardigrades seem to make a lot of antioxidants, when they start drying out. These are chemicals, like vitamins C and E that soak up dangerously reactive chemicals. This may clean upup harmful chemicals in the tardigrades’ cells.These antioxidants are one of the tardigrades’ neatest abilities. In case the tardigrade remains in dry state for long time, its DNA gets damaged, but afterwards it can quickly fix it.

But in a recent experiment, these creatures were stress tested by firing tardigrades from a gun. These creatures defy death everytime.

According to the article published in sciencenews.org , Tardigrades survived smashing into targets at speeds up to about 825 meters per second, researchers report online May 11 in Astrobiology. But speedier water bears blew apart on impact. The findings hint that even intrepid little animals like tardigrades would struggle to survive crash-landing on a new planet.

That puts new limits on the possibility of panspermia — organisms hitchhiking between worlds on planetary debris kicked up by meteorite impacts. Knowing whether life is up to the challenge of planet-hopping could help answer how life got started on Earth and gauge the risk of Earthly lifeforms on spacecraft contaminating other places in the solar system, says Samuel Halim, a planetary scientist at Birkbeck, University of London not involved in the work.

Still there are many misconceptions that whether Tardigrades still exists? But the real facts says that yes, they do. They are a complete animal species in themselves. There are still many researches that are continuously going on this small creature.

Sources:

www.bbc.com/earth/world

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tardigrade

A. Traspas and M.J. Burchell. Tardigrade survival limits in high-speed impacts — implications for panspermia and collection of samples from plumes emitted by ice worldsAstrobiology. Published online May 11, 2021. doi: 10.1089/ast.2020.2405.

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