Tardigrades: Masters of Survival

Tardigrades, although unheard of by most, are one of nature’s toughest living organisms. They’ve been known to survive extreme temperatures, pressures, and even space radiation.

So what makes these creatures such masters of survival?

Tardigrades are not extremophiles, meaning that they are not adapted to survive such harsh conditions. Instead, they just happen to be able to live longer than most other organisms due to their various abilities.

TEMPERATURE
Tardigrades can survive:

  • a few minutes at 151°C
  • 30 years at -20°C
  • a few days at -200°C
  • a few minutes at -272°C

 

PRESSURE

  • they can withstand the extremely low pressure of a vacuum
  • they can also survive in more than 1200 times the atmospheric pressure
  • when exposed to the vacuum of space and solar radiation combined, they can live for up to 10 days

 

DEHYDRATION

  • one of the few species that can suspend their metabolism, lowering it to less than 0.01% of normal
  • they can survive their water content dropping to less than 1% of normal by entering a dehydrated state
  • they have been show to live in this dry state for up to 10 years
  • there was once a reported case of ‘leg movement’ in a specimen of 120 years
  • their dehydrated state can also protect them in extremely low temperatures, as water expands when freezing, and thus a low water content would stop them from getting ripped apart

 

RADIATION

  • they can withstand 1000 times more radiation than other organisms
  • this is due to their dehydrated state providing less reactants for ionizing radiation
  • they also have the ability to efficiently repair DNA damaged by radiation exposure

 

OUTER SPACE

  • they are the first known animals to survive space
  • in September 2007, dehydrated Tardigrades were taken into orbit and exposed for 10 days
  • upon return and rehydration, over 68% of specimens exposed to the vacuum revived within 30 minutes
  • although many died soon afterwards, they were still able to produce viable embryos
  • out of those exposed to the vacuum and solar radiation, only three specimens survived – still better than any other organism

 

One last cool fact about Tardigrades: their other names include water bear and moss piglet.

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