The most versatile animal there is

This may seem an imaginary beast from Star Wars, but it actually is a real life animal… A tiny one.

The tardigrade, also known as “water bear” or “moss piglet” is a Micro-animal; it is 1 millimeter (0.039 in) long when it reaches adulthood.

But never mind its many legs nor the pumping tubular mouth, there are far more impressive facts about it.

There are over 1,000 identified species of tardigrade. Most of them spend their lives on moist moss or at the bottom of a lake and they feed on bacteria or plant life. However, as the smithsonianmag as points out, some tardigrades have been found to survive both in boiling hot springs and buried under the ice on Himalayan mountaintops. Actually, they survive freezing temperature of -328ºF as well as heat of 300ºF and, on top of that, they can withstand pressures 6,000 times greater than an atmosphere and face radiation doses thousands of times stronger than a human would dream of surviving.

Water Bear

Not long ago, in January, theverge published an article on an experiment carried out by Japaneese cryobiologists who successfully revived tardigrades which had been frozen for over 30 years. Moreover, the defrosted animals managed to reproduce and had 14 live offspring.

Both sciencealert and extremetech have very interesting articles in reference to a study by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who sequenced the genome of this wonder of Nature. They found that it has the most foreign DNA of any known animal, this is, one-sixth of the tardigrade’s genome is “stolen” from other species via horizontal gene transfer. And this may be the secret to their adaptability, which is extreme. The bbc and dailymail published articles about water bears sent into space on European and American Agency missions, not only did many of these astronauts survive the exceptionally harsh conditions of outer space, but some of the females had even laid eggs there, and the newly-hatched young were healthy.

Then, wired hints at how further studies of tardigrades may, for example, make cryonics possible way earlier than anyone expects.

Water Bear