If you haven’t heard of a tardigrade, you’re in for a treat. This strange and tiny creature is full of surprises and just may be at or up near the top of the list as one of the world’s coolest — and toughest — animals.
Also known as a ‘water bear’ or ‘moss piglet,’ the 1-millimeter tardigrade is so tough that it can go without water for decades. It can also survive the hottest and coldest environments on Earth.
Scientists have recently discovered what makes the tardigrade so unstoppable.
The chubby, eight-legged, microscopic water-borne creature has withstood a number of experiments in order to understand its bizarre behavior.
Tardigrades have been frozen, boiled, exposed to extreme doses of radiation and even sent into the vacuum of space — only to emerge alive and fully intact. While these sort of treatments may seem awful, they have not bothered the ‘water bear’ in the slightest.
Why is this?
For one, scientists discovered that the creature can bring its head and limbs into its exoskeleton to avoid being dried out. Tardigrades can stay like this for decades and will revive once introduced to water again.
But the biggest discovery … they can also avoid cell damage by turning themselves into glass! Yes, glass!
When the tardigrades were placed into a drying-out chamber, they underwent a process called anhydrobiosis and certain genes were activated, which produced a special protein called tardigrade-specific intrinsically disordered protein. Scientists call this TDP.
When the TDP is activated, it starts a process called vitrification, or turning a substance into glass. The tardigrade will then go into a form of stasis until it once again detects water and revives. Just like nothing ever happened.
This information has become so useful that scientists may try to use TDP to undertake experiments such as freeze-drying medications in the future.
The tardigrade is one bizarre but very interesting creature! Learn more about the ‘water bear’ by watching the video below.
Feature photo Eye of Science/Science Source