The ultimate survivors of the Earth can withstand extreme heat, cold, radiation and even the emptiness of space. Today, the US Army hopes that these tiny creatures called tardigrades can tell us more about true toughness.
These animals are pipsqueaks, only the size of a period. Under a microscope, they look like a combination of chubby bear and alien to one eye. And it is the closest lives that become indestructible.
No water? No problem. The Tardigrades survive. The Antarctic cold, a heat of 300 degrees (150 degrees Celsius), a lack of oxygen, even radiation, do not stop these animals. They are so resistant to so many dangers that scientists believe that their unique biology could help make crops more drought resistant, better preserve blood and medicines, and even enhance the effectiveness of the disease. sunscreen.
When the situation becomes difficult for the tardigrades, they get into a ball, dry and wait. Then, when the environment improves and they get water, they come back to life.
Scientists say that they can remain dormant for decades before resuscitating.
In 2007, scientists put two species of tardigrades in containers, put them into orbit and opened them in a cold, airless space full of harmful sun and star rays.
"If you find yourself in the same situation, you'll explode," said Randy Miller, a late-stage analyst and biologist at Baker University in Kansas. They lived and multiplied afterwards, and the offspring of these late-night astronauts is still alive, said Miller.
There are 1,200 species of tardigrades living all over the world, from mountain peaks to the depths of the oceans, to fairways. Not everyone has the ability to stay dormant and come back to life.
Byron Adams, a biologist at Brigham Young University's Brigham Young University, explains that he can walk a few hundred yards outside and find Tardigrades. He called them the tigers of the Inner Antarctic, located at the top of the restricted food chain, eating algae and aquatic plants.
According to Miller, the tardigrades seem to be the first animals on Earth to have advanced legs and, of course, they look like a first throw: the two hind legs are turned towards the back, while the six front legs are turned towards the front.
If they are injured when they are in an active phase and can not go into survival mode, they die like other creatures. But they have no circulatory system or skeleton, which allows them to snuggle into a mode of hyper survival called "cryptobiosis".
All creatures do not return from suspended animation, Miller said. But overall, they survive, even through the five massive extinctions of the Earth.
Thomas Boothby, a biologist at the University of North Carolina, wanted to know how they managed to survive in "environments that we think are impossible to live with." He has thus isolated the genes that activate when the tardigrades have to enter the cryptobiosis.
Boothby turned these genes into yeast and said their tolerance to drought was multiplied by 100. He hopes the genes could also help crops survive drought better.
In December, the Department of Defense's long-term research group awarded Boothby a grant of nearly $ 5 million to determine what, in late genes, could help human health.
The idea is to see if the tricks that the tardigrades use to protect themselves when they dry can be used to protect vaccines and human blood, Boothby said.
Boothby hopes to keep the blood pouches longer than the current six weeks and allow them to be stored in a dry state so that the soldiers can bring their own blood supply to the fight or that the ambulances do not. carry more. Tardigrade's tips could also help conserve vaccines to help reduce the enormous cost and complexity of trying to keep vaccines cold. They could also potentially help preserve damaged organs or tissues.
Japanese scientists are investigating whether late-night protein could help them design a better sunscreen to protect themselves from the ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer. A 2016 study showed that human cells supplemented with a unique DNA protein at tardigrades reduced radiation damage in preliminary laboratory tests.
The Tardigrades are so strange that some people think that they could easily exist on planets outside the solar system. Astronomer Avi Loeb of Harvard said "that they could survive the impact of a rock and that they could potentially be brought from another planet" on Earth.
Loeb and his colleagues decided to see if life on Earth could survive some of the worst cosmic calamities. So they looked at the warm tardigrades, concluding that the water bears could survive in most end-of-the-world scenarios, such as a giant asteroid crash, a cosmic ray or a nearby supernova – all that who is waiting for us before the sun.
"It's good to know that at least one creature on Earth has a chance to survive, whatever happens," Loeb said.
These things looking like gummy cubs will inherit the earth