Let us see these amazing creatures that don’t require any space suit to survive in space, Tardigrades.
“ I am like a tardigrade, I can survive in the zero gravity of love and sad weather of breakups in the life of cosmos”–Boyka
You may have heard of them as the “ Water Bears”. These creatures are known to be indestructible. Surviving the harshest environments. These tiny microscopic, eight-legged creatures take shelter in mosses and water-dwelling areas. Adults can grow up to 1.5 mm and the smallest are below 0.1 mm. Newborns are smaller than 0.05mm.
First described by a German zoologist Johan August Ephraim Goeze in 1773. He was the one who named these creatures, the water bears.
Its original name, Tardigrada means “ the slow steppers” this naming was done by an Italian biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani 3 years later.
Where can you find them?
Wrong question! Better ask where you cannot find them.
These organisms can be found everywhere. Ranging from the highest mountaintops to the deepest seas and oceans, even mud volcanoes, the tropical forests, the Antarctic, the deserts and yes don’t forget the special one on the list, space.
Yes, you heard that right! tardigrades can survive the harshness of the vacuum. And it doesn’t end here, tardigrades are known to be the most resilient animal. The only individual species that can survive in conditions that can result in being fatal to most of the (nearly every) organisms.
Listing the extreme conditions that these species are able to survive:
Extreme temperatures –
Extreme pressure, that is both high pressure as well as low pressure –
Air deprived environment –
And many more.
Where to meet them?
Well now that you know that they exist in just soo many places, you don’t have to actually dig the ice or travel to space to find our dear tardigrades.
The best place to get a sample of living tardigrades is on lichens and mosses. If you are serious about observing them, make sure you get moss from different places, like the barks of trees or the corners of staircases, yes these are the places that they mostly like to dwell.
Of course, there are other environments like the dunes, beaches, soil and marine, and freshwaters. Here they might occur in a population of about 25,000 animals per liter.
Entering the space….
A European team of researchers had sent a bunch of living tardigrades to orbit the Earth by putting them on the outside of a FOTON – M3 rocket for 10 days. When returned back to Earth it was seen that 68% of the tardigrades that were sent to space actually survived.
Dear Tardigrades how to manage in the extremes?
So what is the secret behind these creatures’ heroic power? Well, although these creatures might be unique in their ability to survive the vacuum of space, believe me they have got a pretty good backup of biology. (nope we are not changing streams!)
It is believed that this incredible ability is achieved by evolution.
Although they are found in some of the driest environments on Earth, tardigrades are technically aquatic creatures. They need a thin layer of water to do most of the things or better, pretty much anything, including eating, reproducing, even moving around.
Land-dwelling tardigrades, well these are different. They have evolved a mind bobbling solution to deal with the environments with an extreme scarcity of water.
Anhydrobiosis is the solution. In response to the adverse environmental condition tardigrades arrest all their metabolic activity and when completely dehydrated, enter the so-called “tun” state. When in this ametabolic state, they become resilient to various chemical and physical extremes.
These micro-metazoans have evolved various kinds of morphological, physiological and molecular adaptations to reduce the effects of desiccation.
In the vacuum …
When desiccated, the tardigrade becomes absurdly resilient. Tests have shown that tardigrades can endure both, the complete vacuum and intense pressures. More than 5 times as pushing as those in the deepest ocean. Temperatures are as high as 300 degrees Fahrenheit (148.889 degree Celsius) and as low as -458 degrees Fahrenheit (-272.222 degree Celsius).
If you want to dive deep into the biology of these creatures, click here.
What about space radiations?
You must have heard about space radiations. Yes exactly, outside our protective Earth’s atmosphere, originating from distant supernovas, our sun and many other family members of the Cosmos.
These radiations when exposed to any life forms, can enter the body and rip apart molecules and the DNA faster than it can be repaired.
According to Peter Guida, the head of NASA’s space radiation laboratory, when dealing with the radiations in space, one of the biggest concerns for astronauts is a set of molecules called reactive oxygen species. When these newly irradiated molecules enter one’s body, it causes all sorts of harm.
But our dear tardigrades have a solution to this problem too! It was observed that tardigrades in their desiccated state produce antioxidants that neutralize the reactive oxygen species.
But the reason why some tardigrades are seen to survive extremely high radiation is still a mystery…
Tardigrades are very resilient microorganisms.
They are found almost everywhere.
They can survive in space.
Sahil Asolkarwriter and co-founder
Sahil Asolkar is a writer, poet, and shows a good interest in astronomy. His work can be seen in the articles he writes for Astronomiac.
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