Water Bears Can Even Survive Unprotected In Space
    By News Staff | September 8th 2008 12:30 AM | 27 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Space is extremely cold, near absolute zero, and it is a vacuum, so no oxygen, plus there is the threat of lethal radiation from stars. It is considered the most hostile of environments, where unprotected humans would last for a fraction of a second.

    But research by Ingemar Jönsson and colleagues in Current Biology shows that some animals — the tardigrades, or 'water-bears' — can do away with space suits and can survive exposure to open-space vacuum, cold and radiation just fine.

    I don't need no stinking spacesuit ...

    This is the first time that any animal has been tested for survival under open-space conditions. The test subjects were chosen with great care: Tardigrades — also known as water-bears — are tiny invertebrate animals from 0.1 to 1.5mm in size that can be easily found on wet lichens and mosses. Because their homes often fall dry, tardigrades are very resistant to drying out and can even resurrect after years of dryness. Along with this amazing survival trick comes extreme resistance to heat, cold and radiation — so tardigrades seemed like an ideal animal to test in space.

    The dried-up tardigrades were aboard the FOTON-M3 spacecraft launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in September 2007 and were exposed to open space conditions — i.e. to vacuum, UV radiation from the sun and cosmic radiation — in a low Earth orbit of around 270km altitude. After their safe return to Earth, it turned out that while most of them survived exposure to vacuum and cosmic rays alone, some had even survived the exposure to the deadly levels of solar UV radiation, which are more than 1,000 times higher than on the surface of the Earth.

    Even more so, the survivors could even reproduce fine after their space trip.

    The tardigrades extreme resistance to UV radiation is perhaps most surprising. UV rays consist of high-energy light particles that cause severe damage to tissue, as is evident when you get a sun-burn. But more so, they can also damage the cell's genetic material, causing for instance skin cancers. For this reason UV is deadly for most organisms —it is even used as a sterilising agent.

    As Jönsson and colleagues write: "How these animals were capable of reviving their body after receiving a dose of UV radiation of more than 7000 kJm-2 under space vacuum conditions […] remains a mystery."

    It is conceivable that the same cellular adaptations that let them survive drying out might also account for their overall hardiness.

    The researchers include K. Ingemar Jönsson, Kristianstad University, Kristianstad, Sweden; Elke Rabbow, Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Radiation Biology Division, Köln, Germany; Ralph O. Schill, Biological Institute, Universität Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany; Mats Harms-Ringdahl, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden; and Petra Rettberg, Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Radiation Biology Division, Köln, Germany.


    Wow dude, that is one wicked looking creature!


    Yet it is a tiny .1mm - a lot of attitude for being so small.

    Bonus: they can go into space, dry out, resurrect themselves and then still reproduce.

    They should be called 'zombie bears' instead.

    hardy enough, dare I say: "Is that you, Gramps ?"

    Beautiful Design Russell Ade Scientist Simple Solutions for Complex Problems
    Russell Ade Scientist Simple Solutions for Complex Problems
    It is considered the most hostile of environments, where unprotected humans would last for a fraction of a second.

    Absolutely false. You need to get your facts straight. It's possible to survive up to a minute in space without protection.

    No pressure? Vaccum? does that mean nothing to you?

    exposure to no pressure will cause ur body to be pushed and pull equally in all directions. effectively, youl explode in seconds.

    Try not to get your physics from movies.

    --really your blood boils in the non-pressure and you won't explode; still you would not survive a few seconds.

    Supporting the life-came-from-outer-space theory?

    You wrote: "... where unprotected humans would last for a fraction of a second."

    Not so, according to NASA:

    "If you don't try to hold your breath, exposure to space for half a minute or so is unlikely to produce permanent injury. Holding your breath is likely to damage your lungs, something scuba divers have to watch out for when ascending, and you'll have eardrum trouble if your Eustachian tubes are badly plugged up, but theory predicts -- and animal experiments confirm -- that otherwise, exposure to vacuum causes no immediate injury. You do not explode. Your blood does not boil. You do not freeze. You do not instantly lose consciousness."

    I stopped reading once I saw that...

    That's an interesting article.

    That means pressure cookers shouldn't work either, though. We put things in a high pressure cooker so they can get hotter without boiling. Low pressure means they would have a lower boiling temperature and that a no-pressure environment, like the vacuum of space, should have 98+/- degree blood boiling almost instantly, right?

    I am not sure how skin and the circulatory system could prevent that, unless the conduction is so poor our blood doesn't know it's cold for some period of time.

    What do you think?

    He's right, according to tests (and a few testing accidents) preformed by NASA the human body can withstand alot (up to a minute) in the near total vacuum of space.

    i say near total because there is pressure although you probably learned otherwise in school. but, yeah, not much.

    also space isn't the coldest place in the universe. theres colder places on earth. they're all in labs somewhere, but they're there. even they can't get to absolute zero though.

    also it should be noted that blood isn't water. there may be alot of water in it but theres alot of water in all of you, not just your blood.

    Well, for one thing, your body exerts it's own pressure / heat, those take some time to go away. But good point!

    Interesting topic for bio-engineers: what enables the stasis / ability to survive reconstitution? Might be worth going into?
    Is it pure cellular design or is there a genetic stasis "switch" we can turn on to live longer / survive more things

    also I know that we can't counteract extreme cold / heat / depressurization with stasis, but dehydration is a possibility?

    The structure of the body (mostly skin) keeps the pressure inside from going to zero, thus preventing your blood from boiling (think of your blood pressure- it's about 100mmHg or 2 pounds/sq. inch above atmospheric). However, fluid that is not pressurized like spit on the tongue or tears in the eyes can, and does, boil. The greatest danger of being in space is not the cold (space has a very low specific heat, the only way to cool something in space is slowly through radiation), but the fact that your lungs work in reverse and outgas all the oxygen in your blood to space, causing you to quickly pass out and die. This actually happened during a spacesuit test in the '60s. The guy passed out after 15 or so seconds, but recovered immediately and completely as soon as they restored pressure. His last memory was the spit on his tongue boiling ;)


    It would have been nice to find out how long they were exposed to vacuum.

    So when are we going to send these out to the planets and moons that have water? They could just dry out for the journey... splashdown and populate? Do we have to lead with plant bombs? How fantastic!

    Ok... So who's making the first spacesuit out of Water Bears?

    I don't know about space suits, but someone made a video out of water bears:

    Hatice Cullingford
    Too Cute to Bear My water bears No space dares They reproduce Only as cares. (What percentage survived?) P.S. Great video.
    I wonder if frogs could survive it

    They go into hybernation and can be actually frozen and revived.

    they have a kind of anti-freeze in their system that makes the water in the cells form rounded crystals so cell membranes aren't ruptured

    A tiny creature is at an advantage, because there is less volume for a bubble to nucleate and blow it apart.

    If the frog was already deep-frozen, it might survive.  After all, the tiny ice particles in the rings of Saturn don't simply boil away.  I wondered if hot climate frogs which undergo aestivation might last longer, but reading the article, it seems they take a water supply with them, rather than drying themselves out.

    Some rotifers are capable of surviving extreme dessication, but then again, they're tiny creatures.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    I think an obvious question is what is there about the water bears that enable them to survive in space and can it be duplicated technologically or genetically. 

    I can't help but to think of the possibilities...

    Johannes Koelman
    I can't help but to think of the possibilities...
    The most spectacular possibility is, I think, the possibility to turn a water bear into Schrodinger's cat (see at bottom of this blog post).
    If it could done, that would be pretty cool. I was thinking more along the lines of genetically modifying larger life forms to be able to survive in space with less life support than is currently required. At the same time I'm all for experiments that test the limits of quantum reality...
    Could life on earth have originally come from space?
    While not direct evedence that it did, it "is" evedence that it could..

    I think we should put a massive beaker full of sterile broth in space and see if anything grows in it!

    Seriously, perhaps we should collect some space dust with aerogel or something, and test if for life.
    Demeter Design
    Amazing! To say the least.  Are they tracking reproduction? Although I don't condone cloning or animal experimentation, I wonder how the genetic lineage would be altered over time if a cloned waterbear were hurled into space and both the "parent" and the clone reproduced. I would like to see how the lineage changed over time.  Also, I wonder if they can reproduce in space given a little shelter, and also if their children could adapt and survive over time (assuming some sort of food).