by Abrielle Chan
We as humans are constantly looking for ways to solve issues, or surpass obstacles. Be it a math problem, energy issues, or colonizing Mars. However, there are organisms that exist within our midst that are tackling these issues far better than we are. Living in space without oxygen, surviving radiation, lack of food, lack of water, and extreme temperature conditions are a few of many things that tardigrades do with ease.
But What Exactly is a Tardigrade?
Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are microscopic creatures that are nearly indestructible. They live everywhere, from the tops of mountains to the bottom of the sea, even in outer space. They grow to be around 0.5 mm, and have four pairs of legs. Tardigrades are either plant eaters or bacteria eaters, but some are found to be carnivorous, since they eat other smaller tardigrades. But what makes them so indestructible? A team of scientists in Japan discovered that tardigrades have a protein that acts as a radiation shield. When this same protein was inserted into human cells, it was found that the damage done to human DNA by x-rays were reduced by 40%.
The thing that makes tardigrades truly indestructible is cryptobiosis. In this state, tardigrades get rid of all the moisture in their bodies, tuck in their legs, and turn into ‘tuns’. In this state, they are able to secrete trehalose, which acts as a case or cocoon around the tardigrade, mummifying them.
Aside from being practically impossible to kill, tardigrades are seen as oddly cute microscopic creatures. So next time you’re wondering what would survive a world-changing apocalypse, look to the cute, indestructible, tardigrade.