Tardigrades or water bears as called are chubby eight legged microscopic organisms have superpowers when it comes to surviving very harsh conditions. The survival strategies of these Tardigrades (micro organisms) ore now considered by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to see how they can help astronauts from the extreme environment in space.
NASA feels that the understanding of water bears can better guide research into protecting humans from the stresses of long-duration space travel. An experiment starting aboard the International Space Station, called Cell Science-04 will help reveal how Tardigrades do it.
TRICKS OF TARDIGRADES
Assistant professor at the University of Wyoming in Laramie and principal investigator of the experiment Thomas Boothby pointed out that they wanted to see what tricks these microscopic organisms use to survive when they arrive in space. He said that they wanted to see if the organisms are the same or if they change across generations. One explanation is that Tardigrades could be producing tons more of antioxidants to combat harmful change in the body caused by increased radiation exposure in space.
Boothby pointed out that the microorganism was seen doing this while on earth. The biologist hoped that the ways Tardigrades evolve to withstand extreme conditions on Earth might be what protects them against the stresses of spaceflight. He said that they would look for changes in Tardigrade genes in space. The scientists at Cell Science-04 believe that knowing which ones are turned on or off in response to short term and long-term Spaceflight will help to identify the specific ways by which Tardigrades survive in stressful environments.
Moreover, checking the genes that are activated or deactivated by other stresses would pinpoint the genes that respond exclusively to spaceflight. The Tardigrade will be on board living and reproducing inside special science hardware developed for the station by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, which also manages the mission.
Called the Bioculture System the hardware lets scientists carry out long-term studies of cultures of cells, tissues, and microscopic animals in space by allowing real-time, remote monitoring and finer control over the conditions in which they grow. In the long-run, revealing what makes Tardigrades so tolerant could lead to ways of protecting biological material, such as food and medicine from extreme temperatures drying out, and radiation exposure, which will be invaluable for long-duration, deep-space exploration missions, NASA said.
THE MICRO ORGANISM
Tardigrade also called water bear or moss piglet belongs to phylum Tardigrado. They are close relatives of arthropods. They are mostly about 1 mm or less in size. They live in a variety of habitats such as damp moss, flowering plants, sand. Fresh water and sea. Tardigrades have a well-developed head region and a short body composed of four fused segments, with each segment bearing a pair of short, stout, unjointed limbs generally terminated by several sharp claws. One of the remarkable features of these micro organisms is their ability to withstand extremely low temperatures and desiccation (extreme drying). Under unfavourable conditions, they go into a state of suspended animation called the “tun” state-in which the body dries out and appears as a lifeless ball.