Tiny tardigrades nearly radiation proof

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To introduce her children to the hidden marvels of the animal kingdom a few years ago, Anne De Cian stepped into her garden in Paris.
Dr. De Cian, a molecular biologist, gathered bits of moss, then came back inside to soak them in water and place them under a microscope.
But she was not finished with the tiny beasts, known as tardigrades.
The blasts were hundreds of times greater than the radiation required to kill a human being.
Yet the tardigrades survived, going on with their lives as if nothing had happened.
Scientists have long known that tardigrades are freakishly resistant to radiation, but only now are Dr. De Cian and other researchers uncovering the secrets of their survival.
Scientists have been trying to breach the defenses of tardigrades for centuries.
In the subsequent decades, scientists found that tardigrades could withstand crushing pressure, deep freezes and even a trip to outer space.

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Anne De Cian stepped into her Parisian garden a few years ago to introduce her kids to the lesser-known wonders of the animal kingdom. Dr. De Cian, a molecular biologist, collected moss fragments and went back inside to soak them in water and examine them visually. Her children peered through the eyepiece at odd eight-legged things scrambling over the moss.

Dr. De Cian remarked, “It impressed them.”.

Her work with the tardigrades, as they are called, was far from over. She took them to her lab at the French National Museum of Natural History, where she prepared them for gamma ray treatment alongside her colleagues. The radiation from the blasts was hundreds of times more than what would be needed to kill a human. Nevertheless, the tardigrades persevered and carried on with their lives unaffected.

Tardigrades’ extraordinary radiation resistance has long been recognized by scientists, but it is only now that Dr. De Cian and other researchers are learning the secrets of their survival. According to a study released on Friday and another from earlier this year, tardigrades are experts at molecular repair and can rapidly put large amounts of broken DNA back together.

For centuries, researchers have attempted to overcome tardigrades’ defense mechanisms. The animals could completely dry out and then come back to life with a splash of water, according to an Italian naturalist named Lazzaro Spallanzani’s 1776 account. Scientists discovered in the ensuing decades that tardigrades could survive deep freezes, crushing pressure, and even space travel.

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