While soil scientists study the role of the Tardigrade in the microbial communities that make up healthy soil, other scientists are looking at the resilience of the Tardigrade for other beneficial uses. A common and nearly indestructible soil organism, the Tardigrade or Water Bear, creates a sugar called “trehalose” which allows the tardigrade to survive without water, in a dehydrated state, for decades. Scientists are experimenting with trehalose as a preservative for human blood. They are extracting trehalose from tardigrades and other animals that produce it, such as brine shrimp. Experimental results so far indicate that by injecting trehalose into blood cells, the cells can survive dehydration at room temperature. If this proves to be effective, after human trials with the rehydrated blood, it will be possible to store human blood for pandemics, for medical use where refrigeration is not available, even for use by colonists on Mars.
In January 2020, students at Riverday School in Spokane, WA did a variety of projects around tardigrades. Students created posters, took samples, and visited Gonzaga University to view live tardigrades. The students are supporting the initiative to make tardigrades Washington State’s micro-animal.
Here is a short video of their work on tardigrades. This footage was shot by the students themselves.
Here is the full video as shot and produced by the students.
There are also lots of pictures of the students during their trip to Gonzaga, as well as the teachers involved and the posters the students made.
Tardigrade: Proposed Official State Micro-Animal of Washington
Two Washington State schools are nominating the Tardigrade as Washington State’s Micro-Animal. The science students at the Friday Harbor High School on San Juan Island and the students at Riverday School in Spokane have studied the Tardigrade as part of their science curriculum and found it to be worthy of becoming the Washington State Micro-Animal. The Tardigrade, which means “slow stepper” and is sometimes referred to as the “water bear” or “moss piglet,” is among the most resilient animals alive today, having survived the last five mass extinctions. They are found in fossil records 530 million years old. A native of Washington State, found in every county and habitat, it lives in mosses, lichens, marine and freshwater sediments, soil, seawater, freshwater, glaciers, hot springs, deserts, and rain forests. They are important ecologically because they eat other micro-organisms, such as crop-destroying nematodes, as well as plant cells, and help to clean both soil and water. Due to its amazing ability to withstand extremes, such as boiling mud pots in Yellowstone, glaciers on mountaintops, the vacuum of space, extreme drought, and radiation, the Tardigrade is being studied for new methods of adapting to climate change, as well as for preventing radiation damage from cancer treatments. Tardigrades may also be the first colonists on the moon since they crash-landed there in August of 2019. According to an international expert on Tardigrades, Lukasz Kaczmarek, they are likely to have survived because “Tardigrades can survive pressures that are comparable to those created when asteroids strike Earth, so a small crash like this is nothing to them.” This and many other extreme achievements of the Tardigrade make it the perfect Micro-Animal for the Evergreen State.
UPDATE: Washington state high school students attended legislative sessions in Olympia in support of making the tardigrade the state micro-animal.
Below are pictures of the students at the statehouse. Featured in one of the pictures is Representative Alex Ramel.
Before the hearing, Representative Alex Ramel took a few moments to talk to the students that would be testifying.
Last week, Lynn Bahrych delivered 30 living tardigrades to the science classes at the Friday Harbor High School on San Juan Island. The tardigrades will be studied and hopefully “cultured” in the classroom as part of a campaign to have the tardigrade designated as Washington State’s “Micro-Animal.”
On November 12, 2019, following the delivery of the tardigrades, Lynn and a volunteer marine biologist and videographer, Dr. Michael Noonan, joined Sam Garson, the Friday Harbor High School science teacher, to introduce the project to his science class. Mr. Garson had prepared slides for the classroom microscopes, as well as a worksheet (titled “Behold the Mighty Water Bear”) and video introductions of the tardigrade and the research being done on it now to study evolutionary development (”evo devo”).
Not much is known for sure about tardigrades, so these students might be able to contribute something new to the field. Tardigrade ecology is in its “infancy,” according to experts. Exciting new ideas may come from the three classrooms across the state participating in this project. In addition to the Friday Harbor High School on San Juan Island, the Riverday School in Spokane, and the Roosevelt Middle School in Olympia are studying the enigmatic “moss piglet” or “water bear.”
For the state designation of the tardigrade, there are three state legislative sponsors at this time; Representative Jeff Morris of District 40, who is the primary sponsor, Senator Debra Lekanoff also from District 40, and Representative Marcus Riccelli from Spokane. Once the bill is filed in Olympia, other legislators will be invited to sign on.
This is the education and outreach project for the Soil Health Committee for 2019-2020. The goal is to raise awareness of soil health across the state by focusing on a charismatic animal that lives in soil and, in ways we are only beginning to understand, contributes to soil health.
A few fascinating facts about tardigrades:
In 2008, two “super-predator” Tardigrade species were discovered that suppress nematode communities despite being greatly outnumbered by the nematode populations. This may be very good news for producers with nematode issues. That is, unless the tardigrades also eat beneficial critters, which is why more research is needed.
In 2015, Japanese scientists found “high expressions of novel tardigrade-unique proteins,“ including one that suppresses radiation damage When inserted in human cultured cells, this unique tardigrade protein suppressed X-ray damage to human cells by 40%.
Tardigrades work as a “pioneer species” by inhabiting new developing environments and attracting other invertebrates, including predators looking for food.
Tardigrade species have been found in fossils 530 million years old and are often described as the champions of climate change, having survived the last five mass extinctions.
This interesting article mentions one of the soil stars, the Tardigrade, which has survived space travel. In fact, 68% Tardigrade came back to Earth alive after being launched into space without spacesuits!
Here is the excerpt about them from the article on alien microbes:
“Little, if anything, is (publicly) known yet about the actual characteristics of the “alien” bacteria. The fact that they were found on the outside of the ISS, in low-Earth orbit, is intriguing, but nothing conclusive can be said until it can be determined they didn’t originate from Earth itself. There are many different kinds of microorganisms on Earth, and it is possible that some could get lofted into low-Earth orbit. They are already known to exist in the upper atmosphere and it’s also known that at least one type of microorganism can survive in space itself for some periods of time – tardigrades (water bears). In 2007, some living tardigrades were sent into space on the outside of a FOTON-M3 rocket for ten days by European researchers. 68 percent of them survived the trip, including coming back to Earth. Perhaps there are some other tiny earthly bugs which could do that as well.”