Published: Sat, July 15, 2017
Economy | By Annette Adams

Meet the water bear, Earth's indestructible animal that will outlive us all

Meet the water bear, Earth's indestructible animal that will outlive us all

Known as tardigrades, these tiny, eight-legged creatures are likely to keep living long after human beings are gone, according to a new study by Oxford University researchers. Scientists have known for some time that tardigrades are almost impossible to kill - although they dwell in water, they can be without it for 30 years - but research published Friday in Scientific Reports takes that notion a step further: The species will live through every disaster until the sun itself explodes. They've survived the frozen vacuum of space and even can bring themselves back to life.

MEET the world's most indestructible being - a bug that can survive for up to 30 years without food or water.

Scientists scored the survival of the species over three rounds of tests which simulated a large asteroid impact, a blast from an exploding supernova star and a gamma ray burst, which is a huge explosion thought to be caused by a star collapsing.

The findings of the study have now been published in Scientific Reports.

In the paper, they write that there are only a dozen known asteroids and dwarf planets with enough mass to boil the oceans, including Pluto.

"As we are now entering a stage of astronomy where we have seen exoplanets and are hoping to soon perform spectroscopy looking for signatures of life, we should try to see just how fragile this hardiest life is", said Dr David Sloan, co-author and also from the Department of Physics at Oxford University.

He said: "Tardigrades are as close to indestructible as it gets on Earth, but it is possible that there are other resilient species examples elsewhere in the universe".

"In this context there is a real case for looking for life on Mars and in other areas of the solar system in general", said Dr. Alves Batista said. "If Tardigrades are earth's most resilient species, who knows what else is out there", said Batista.

No space rock big enough to cause a complete species annihilation is on a collision course with our planet, the team found. But before that point, the star would get hot and close enough to sterilize Earth for good, boiling away the world's oceans before consuming the planet or knocking it out of orbit - ending the tardigrades' reign at last.

A new study examines the ways small organisms called tardigrades could endure even if Earth were faced with gamma-ray bursts, supernova blasts or deadly asteroids.

As for gamma ray bursts, the chances of a fatal event are mathematically slim.

Moreover, the animal's ability to survive in extreme conditions suggests that alien life could be a lot more common than previously believed.

It's worth bearing in mind that even if humanity does extinguish itself, the hardiness of complex life like tardigrades could provide the basis for new forms of life to evolve after us. Professor Abraham Loeb, co-author and chair of the Astronomy department at Harvard University, said: 'It is hard to eliminate all forms of life from a habitable planet.

"This can guide us in which environments we should not search for life", astronomer Avi Loeb tells Dvorsky. "The history of Mars indicates that it once had an atmosphere that could have supported life, albeit under extreme conditions".

"Without our technology protecting us, humans are a very sensitive species", Alves Batista said.

And the tardigrade deemed to be Earth's ultimate survivor. So it's natural to wonder what it would take to eliminate all life on a planet.

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