STATES CHRONICLE – When you hear about tough animals you immediately think of strong animals like tigers or elephants but the world’s toughest animal is microscopic. The animal with the highest rate of durability is a tiny creature called tardigrade or water bear.
Where does such an animal live? Well, everywhere. They are extremely tolerant and can live in the mountains or in the oceans, in hot springs or in ice at the South Pole. But they don’t only live surrounded by nature. They can also be found in urban areas, such as New York.
Let’s see how their surviving mechanism works. They have eight legs that they curl inwards, their bodies shrivel up expelling almost any water they have and they become dry. This is called a “tun”. In this state, it’s like they are dead which makes them almost impossible to kill.
Since tardigrades are almost dead in the tun state, they don’t need any food or water. The temperatures they can manage range from absolute zero to 151 degrees Celsius. The water pressure of the ocean is no problem to them, they resist radiation that can be fatal to other animals and they can practically take baths in toxic solvents without being harmed.
Turning back to the fact that the water bear dehydrates itself until reaching an almost dead state, seems to be working the other way around as well. Meaning that after getting rid of its water, the tiny creature becomes a sponge that absorbs genes from other organisms such as bacteria. These change their genomes to such a degree that they become almost unrecognizable.
A team of researchers at the University of North Carolina has been studying one type of tardigrade called Hypsibius dujardini, as it is one of the few types easier to grow in a lab. They discovered that a mixture of what seemed to be contaminants from bacteria was in fact part of the animal’s genome.
Although there was a time when scientists rejected the idea of animals trading genes, they recently came upon discoveries that led them to believe otherwise. For example, Ticks have antibiotic genes that come from bacteria, wasps’ virus genes act like biological weapons, beetles who kill coffee plants do so with a ‘borrowed’ bacteria gene.
However, the space occupied by the new gene is about 1 percent of the creature’s genome. But for the water bear, foreign genes are almost 17.5 percent of its genome which is incredibly high. The tiny animal uses these borrowed genes in its favor in order to protect itself from different environment situations.
In conclusion, bacteria is not that bad if you know how to use it and this microscopic water bear has proven it by using bacteria genes to survive in the worst conditions.
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