Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tardigrades - Indestructable Outer Space Adventurers

You're probably thinking: "That thing don't look so tough. It looks like a pudgy bear/mole/beanbag hybrid."

Well SuperForesters, these are tardigrades and they are arguably the toughest creatures on planet earth.

Just how tough?

Imagine being able to have every last drop of moisture removed from your body. Imagine then that your dried out husk of a self is put on a shelf. Imagine being left on that shelf for ten years, until finally some kind soul wanders by and generously splashes some water on you.

Imagine sitting right up, fully alive and refreshed and in the mood to mate.

That is what the tardigrade can do.

Oh, but there's so much more.

Tardigrades are found in every environment on Earth, no matter how seemingly inhospitable.

The top of Mount Everest? Check.
Underneath polar ice caps? Check.
Bottom of the seafloor? Check.

It's not just cold they don't mind but heat, for you can heat a tardigrade to nearly 310 degrees F and it will be just fine.

And it gets better...

A team of scientists recently took a colony of tardigrades up into orbit, where they were exposed not only to the deadly cold and vacuum of space, but also the incredibly intense radiation that we're protected from by our atmosphere.

Not only did most of them live, they also suffered no ill effects and immediately began hunting once more more little tardigrade husbands and wives with which to do the nasty.

These things are t. o. u. g. h.

Here's a video of them doing their thing:

tardigrades (water bears) from Goldstein Lab on Vimeo.

The reason that we're so amped on tardigrades is that they offer incredible proof of concept for panspermia.

(from wikipedia)

"Panspermia (Gk. πάς/πάν (pas/pan, all) and σπέρμα (sperma, seed)) is the hypothesis that "seeds" of life exist already all over the Universe, that life on Earth may have originated through these "seeds", and that they may deliver or have delivered life to other habitable bodies."

Imagine you're a colony of tardigrades, digging around in the soil or water, minding your own business, when BLAMMY!

A huge comet smacks into the planet and you and your colony are ejected into space, now a free-flying asteroid studded with living creatures.

That asteroid then hurtles through the blackness of space for a while before being sucked into a new planet's gravity well. Many of your colony-mates are destroyed during re-entry and touchdown, in fact all of them are, except for you.

But you have survived and luckily you can reproduce all by your lonesome.

You then become a one person Adam & Eve, populating this new world with your children and children's children and so on.

Unlikely? Hell yes.

Possible? Mmmmmmmaybe.

But where evolution and life are concerned, maybe is more than enough.

The humble tardigrade, unlikely winner of the world's toughest creature award.



iwishthereweretenofthem said...

I actually saw a program on the Animal Planet about these little life forms. Our Universe is amazing.

Honeyspy said...

omgwtf! This is... kinda terrifying, actually. :)