Tardigrades : A Space Traveler’s Guide
Tardigrades are found in moist, green places; hence they found their nicknames as water bear and moss piglet. These Tardigrades are eight- legged miniscule creatures, tagged as the toughest beast on Earth. It can survive the temperature of – (272) oCelsius; being frozen, being exposed to the vacuum conditions of outer space or even being bombarded with 500 times the dose of X-Rays. Any such above mentioned conditions can instantly kill a human.
This creature, Tardigrades can endure conditions that don’t even exist on Earth. This unbelievable resilience combined with their endearing looks has made these creatures, a favorite of animal lovers. Apart from that the researchers are studying these microscopic animals in great detail, which are about the size of a dust mite.
The purpose of their interest in Tardigrades is to prepare humans and crops to handle the rigor of space travel. The Tardigrades’ indestructibility originates from its adaptation to its environment. It may seem very surprising, since it lives extremely crushy places, like the cool, wet clumps of mosses that dot a garden wall.
However, Tardigrades’ Mossy homes can dry out many times each year, turning to be catastrophic for the living things. Drying damages cells similarly to that of freezing, vacuum and radiation. Drying can lead to high levels of peroxides and other reactive oxygen species. These toxic molecules chisel a cell’s DNA into short fragments, just as radiation does. The drying process also causes the membranes of the cells to wrinkle and crack.
It also leads to the unfolding of delicate proteins, rendering them as useless as crumpled paper airplanes. Tardigrades have mastered the strategies for dealing with these kinds of damages. Tardigrades produce such proteins which are not found in any other animal on Earth. These proteins “damage suppressor” strangely binds to its DNA which in turn shield it from reactive forms of Oxygen.
One day, humans may be able to colonize space by emulating Tardigrades. Food crops, yeasts and insects could be engineered to produce tardigrade proteins, allowing these organisms to grow more efficiently on spacecraft where levels of radiation are elevated compared with on the Earth.
So if humans ever succeed in reaching stars, they may accomplish this feat, in part, by standing on the shoulders of the tiny eight legged endurance master in our own backyard.
Top Questions: FAQ
What is a tardigrade?
Tardigrada are invertebrates belonging to the phylum Tardigrada. They are related to arthropods (e.g., crustaceans and insects) and nematodes (e.g., roundworms). In addition to their ability to survive in extreme environments, tardigrades are also called water bears.
What is a tardigrade’s survival mechanism?
Despite extreme conditions, tardigrades can survive by going into a “tun” state, which causes their body to dry out and their metabolism to drop to as little as 0.01 percent. Upon returning to normal conditions, the tardigrade revives. It is possible for tardigrades to stay in a tun state for decades at a time.
What kills tardigrades?
The exposure to hot water for an extended period of time can kill tardigrades. According to one study, one hour of immersion in water at 82.7°C (180.9°F) can kill a tardigrade in its “tun” state, where it goes into suspended animation and becomes hard to kill.
Where do tardigrades live?
Usually, Tardigrades live in moist habitats, such as damp moss or underwater sediment. Because of their ability to withstand extreme conditions, Tardigrades can be found all over the world.