Dear Readers, I hope you will forgive an extremely speedy blog today – we are in the middle of all kinds of shenanigans at work, with two people including our Finance Director on maternity leave and someone else on holiday, but nonetheless I am taking ten minutes to tell you the latest news on the super-heroes of the microscopic world, the tardigrades, or water-bears. There are about 1300 species of tardigrade (the name actually means ‘slow-stepper’) and they can be found anywhere from the tops of mountains to the super-heated vents of underwater volcanoes, from the Amazon rainforest to the Antarctic.
Individual species have developed a whole range of ‘superpowers’. Some can survive temperatures close to absolute zero (-272 degrees Centigrade): some can live through a few minutes of exposure to temperatures as high as 151 degrees Centigrade (although they are not as immune to being boiled as they are to almost everything else). They can go into a state of suspended animation when they are completely dehydrated, and can survive in this condition for up to 30 years. They can survive levels of radiation 1000 times higher than any other animal (largely because they have a special protein which protects their DNA from damage) and have even survived, unprotected, in the cold vacuum of space.
And this very morning, it turns out that tardigrades can also protect themselves from damaging ultraviolet light by creating a fluorescent shield. While a poor worm died in less than five minutes after exposure to the intense levels of UV light, the tardigrades ( a new species previously unknown to science) survived for over an hour until the experiment ended. Some bright spark (pun intended!) is now hoping that they can somehow use this skill to create a sunshield for humans.
And now that we’ve found all this stuff out, maybe we can stop torturing these poor little critters. I think they’ve done quite enough to earn a quiet life, eh.
And if you’re as enamoured with these micro-beasties as I am, you can even buy a plush version. Who needs a teddy when you’ve got a tardigrade?