Oct 16, 2008

Tardigrades Still Kicking Ass

Astrobiology is a field that up until a few years ago was purely in the realm of science fiction. It is so no longer. The study of possible life away from our Earth increases every day. Some of this research is looking at ways of finding signs of life through telescopes and satellites, and others seek to understand what type of creature "alien" life-forms may be by studying the life-forms that exist on our planet in extreme conditions. These harsh environments are the norm in the Solar System and the microorganisms that thrive in these rarefied ecosystems may truly be the only life that exists out there.

-FUPPETS- has discussed the tardigrades sent into low Earth orbit to test their survival capabilities in the near vacuum and radiation of space. Now, scientists are studying a very critical and exciting aspect of these "Water Bear's" incredible abilities. These tardigrades were subjected to a barrage of harsh tests.

First they were heated up to sizzling temperatures of 194 F (90 C). Then a
group was frozen at -321 F (-196 C). The next batch was given a dose of
radiation similar to what they would receive in space — around 4,000 times
stronger than that which would make humans ill. The last selection was covered
in a dissolving chemical (99.8% acetonitrile, a chemical which may be present in
Titan's atmosphere).

In all these extreme tests the Tardigrades survived. The most exciting part is that these "water bears" appear to be able to repair molecular damage to their DNA and continue functioning as normal, even after undergoing a complete dehydration and suffering massive radiation exposure.
In humans, this type of radiation exposure would be lethal, and extremely painful. Studying these crazy animals will help us humans achieve our goals of travel through our Solar System and maybe between the stars.

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