One of the most remarkable creatures known to science is a miniscule, and some would even say "cute," aquatic creature with a snub nose and four pairs of legs - the tardigrade. These little creatures - sometimes called water bears - are incredibly strong, incredibly resilient to environmental extremes, and virtually immortal, essentially making them the Incredible Hulk of animals. Technically considered a "micro-animal," these microscopic animals have been found in some of the harshest environments on earth.
Everyday scientists are discovering more amazing facts about tardigrades, and only now are they beginning to understand what makes these little critters so incredible. One of the most incredible things about water bears is the implications that their biology might one day benefit humanity, making them one of science's hottest topics. Check out these astonishing facts about the amazing tardigrade.
Not Only Can They Survive Radiation, They Can Repair Any Damage It Causes To Their DNA
Though the processes at work are not fully understood, tardigrades "exhibit extraordinary resistance to ionizing radiation and UV radiation." They have survived extreme levels of alpha radiation and gamma radiation, and 1,000 times the lethal human dose of x-ray radiation. Tardigrades that were damaged by radiation exposure were able to repair their DNA within a matter of days.
Many believe the tardigrade's unique ability to repair DNA coupled with the already unique DNA the tardigrade has, work as a double-layered protection strategy. Interestingly, scientists found that tardigrades who lived in freshwater had a harder time surviving than other types of tardigrades.
They Can Survive In Toxic Substances
Alcohol disrupts the structure of cell membranes when in direct contact for less than a minute, yet the tiny tardigrade has survived being immersed in alcohol for a full day. They have also survived exposure to concentrated carbolic acid, a volatile compound produced from petroleum, and the flammable, corrosive gas hydrogen sulfide.
Tardigrades Can Be Dehydrated For 30 Years And Still Recover
Desiccation, or the state of being extremely dry, is typically devastating to living organisms, because base oxidation causes DNA to break down. The tardigrade, however, can survive being in a desiccated state for as long as 30 years - perhaps even as long as 120 years - by replacing water in its body with a protective sugar known as trehalose that acts as a sort-of glass covering over key proteins and membranes that would otherwise be destroyed.
When water is reintroduced, the tardigrade can recover in a relatively short time and even absorb the DNA of other desiccated organisms to help in their rejuvenation.
When They're Under Extreme Duress, Tardigrades Can Put Themselves In A State Of Suspended Animation
The tardigrade is able to survive temperature extremes and lack of moisture by putting itself into a state of suspended animation. They enter a "barrel" form, initially losing their legs and preserving any remaining water in their bodies inside of the sugar substitute trehalose.
Then, their bodies curl up into a dry husk called a "Tönnchenform" or "tun" and drop their metabolisms down to 0.01% of the normal rate. They can remain this way for days, weeks, years, or even decades until environmental conditions are right for them to emerge from suspended animation.