Eight-legged sleeping beauties : Frozen tardigrades do not age

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(ORDO NEWS) — Tardigrades are well known for their unparalleled survivability, allowing them to endure the most unthinkable challenges, from temperatures close to absolute zero to pressures of thousands of atmospheres or the most powerful ionizing radiation.

But now scientists have found that these incredible animals can not only spend years in a frozen state, but also not grow old.

Tardigrades are real champions of survival: they are able to endure 10 days in outer space, spend more than 30 years without water and food and not die, having received a dose of radiation several times higher than the lethal one for all other animals.

Probably the only thing that could prevent them from becoming the dominant form of life on Earth is their extremely small size (the largest tardigrades reach only one and a half millimeters in length) and a short lifespan, usually not exceeding a couple of years.

However, from now on, a correction will have to be made to the second statement: the period of active life spent breeding and collecting microscopic prey – algae, rotifers and even other tardigrades.

If, for some reason, the tardigrade falls into a state of suspended animation , then it can exist for decades and, as if nothing had happened, return to its normal state as soon as external conditions return to normal.

Back in 2019, scientists showed that dried tardigrades do not age: no matter how much time they spent in a state of suspended animation, their active life did not change.

Now, the same team has found that freezing tardigrades has a similar effect: despite the fact that lowering the temperature and humidity causes different changes in living cells, tardigrades have learned to cope with both equally well.

To find out, the researchers froze about 500 tardigrades at minus 30 degrees Celsius. This is significantly higher than the lowest temperature that tardigrades can survive (they can spend eight hours at minus 271 degrees Celsius, which is close to absolute zero ), but it allowed scientists to thaw and freeze animals several times with less effort until they died.

Comparing the active life span of such tardigrades with those kept at normal room temperature, the scientists found that their life spans did not differ significantly.

Eight legged Sleeping Beauties frozen tardigrades do not age 2
Tardigrades under the microscope

In other words, when completely frozen, the biological clock of tardigrades stops, only to start again with a return to normal life.

Scientists compared the experimental animals with the fabulous Sleeping Beauty : like an enchanted princess, tardigrades can sleep for many years, but wake up the same, without aging even for a minute.


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