Water bears in space

23 09 2008

Those naming committees are just not playing fair.

News from space this month the story of the first animals to survive the harsh extreme environment of space – “water bears” (not space bears).

Nature has now gone access-only. So read a summary over at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Water bears, or Tardigrades, are practically microscopic (the largest are dust-speck sized at best – 1.5mm) but they are true animals. There are around 1000 species in a rather unique phylum Tardigrada that is sister to Arthropoda and Onychophora (velvet worms).

The secret to their hardiness in extreme environments – not limited to extreme temperature, dessication, pressure, radiation (all useful resistances* for space farers) – is going into a uber-hibernation-torpor state called cryptobiosis, essentially stopping all metabolic activity. They basically turn themselves into husk or spore of their former selves that will reawaken when conditions are right. You just add water back to your tardigrade spore and it comes back to life, a lot like sea monkeys, actually exactly like sea monkeys (one of the most common examples of cryptobiosis^).

One of the comments at Nature News:

The Genome of these animals, water bears and others such as pup fish and microbes living in extreme conditions should be sequenced. It would reveal a lot about disease and environmental resistance that would be useful for human health

Nature News 09 Sep, 2008 Posted by: Richard Dawson

We’re on top of it Richard. Currently, the genome of Hypsibius dujardini is undergoing sequencing, chosen because of its small and compact genome. More information on water bears and their genomics can be found at Genomicron. Hopefully factors behind its extremophilic abilities will be uncovered, and exploited.

*can I pretend it’s not an RPG reference?

^I think the freezing frog is much cooler




One response

18 12 2008
Ice ice kitty « It’s Alive!!

[…] cellular integrity tend not to fare up well during the freezing and unfreezing processes – natural cryptobiosis adaptions allow some animals to survive prolonged cold-induced […]

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