Ancient creatures that appeared on Earth more than 500 million years ago are the subject of NASA’s research to discover how to survive in the harsh “universe”.
Water bears or tardigrades are known to be among the creatures capable of surviving the harshest environments. They will be the subject of a series of experiments at the International Space Station (ISS) to reveal the secret of their superpowers.
According to Live Science, the 0.5mm long 8-legged creatures (only visible under a microscope) were sent to the ISS as part of the Cell Science-04 experiment aboard SpaceX Dragon 22 on June 3.
Water bears inhabit almost every ecosystem on Earth, including the most extreme habitats such as the deep sea, volcanoes, and the Arctic. According to NASA, the new experiment will bring their adaptation to space in conditions of microgravity and high radiation. Scientists will keep the water bears on the space station for four generations to see what changes take place in their DNA over time.
Thomas Boothby, assistant professor at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, lead author of the study, said in a statement by NASA: “We wanted to see the ‘tricks’ the tardigrades used to survive arrivals. space, and over time, what ‘tricks’ do their descendants use. Are they the same or do they change over generations? We don’t know what will happen.”
Tardigrade are already experienced cosmonauts. In September 2007, the European Space Agency (ESA) sent a series of tardigrades on a 12-day spacewalk aboard the unmanned spacecraft FOTON-M3. Most of these tardigrades survived exposure to the vacuum and cosmic rays. Some even pass solar ultraviolet radiation that can be 1,000 times higher in orbit than Earth’s surface.
The scientists will also study how the stress of spaceflight affects different genes in water bears, NASA said.
“Testing which genes are activated or deactivated by other stresses will help identify genes that respond specifically to space flight. Cell Science-04 will then test which genes are really needed. to adapt and survive in this highly stressful environment,” NASA said.
Organisms will reside in the Bioculture System, created by NASA’s Ames Research Center, allowing scientists on Earth to remotely test the inoculation of microscopic organisms, or cells, and tissue, and at the same time adjust the environment as desired.
“In the long term, revealing what makes tardigrade tolerable could lead to ways to protect biological matter, such as food and drugs from extreme temperatures, dryness and radiation exposure. This will be invaluable information for long-term deep space exploration,” NASA said.
Water bears were first described in 1773 by a German pastor J.A.E Goeze and named tardigrade, which means “slowly moving”. Three years later they were also described by the Italian biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani.
However, tardigrades are ancient creatures that appeared on Earth more than 500 million years ago. Their fossils were found 530 million years ago, in the Cambrian period.