By Shruthi Ravichandran and Jessica Chang
Imagine you are in a post-apocalyptic world, the only survivor in this barren wasteland. But wait – you’re not. Millions of microscopic organisms called tardigrades have also survived. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to you.
Besides being unbelievably adorable, tardigrades are literally the hardiest organisms in existence, known to mankind. Scientists at Oxford and Harvard have discovered that they will be able to survive for at least the next 10 billion years, and even past the death of the sun. These eight legged cuties have acquired dozens of bizarre adaptations through horizontal gene transfers that allow them to survive even the harshest conditions.
These organisms, often called “moss-piglets” or “water-bears,” thrive in sediment at the bottom of lakes, as well as in mossy and wet environments. But that’s not all. Tardigrades can live almost anywhere, from outerspace to the coldest icebergs to the hottest deserts.
Think it’s easy to squash one of these little critters? Good luck with that. Tardigrades can handle immense pressure, up to 6000 times atmospheric pressure, allowing them to live deep in the earth and in volcanoes. They are able to withstand unbelievable amounts of radiation, thousands of times what a human could and can handle extreme temperatures ranging from -328°F to over 300°F, surviving being frozen in liquid helium for 30 years! Scientists have recently revived tardigrades from a 100 year old dried out moss sample. Launch a tardigrade into the cold vacuum of space for ten days, and it will come back virtually unscathed.
So how do these little freaks of nature manage to survive basically everything nature has to offer? The answer lies in a process known as cryptobiosis, which allows them to survive extreme environmental changes. As the environment changes around them, tardigrades survive by rolling up into tiny, dry balls called “tuns.” In this hibernative state, tardigrades basically stop all body processes and can even lower their metabolic rate to 0.1% of its normal level.
In the entire solar system, there are only 19 known asteroids that could wipe these cuties out, so they will long outlive us all! But do not despair, you can always watch gifs of these cute little “smushy-faced-panda-bear-sumo-wrestler-indestructible” critters!
Happy Sciencing and Go Girls in STEM!!
Your favorite freshman,
Shruthi and Jessica 🙂