Meet The Incredible Creature That Could Live Until The End Of The Earth

Posted: Jul 14 2017, 10:40pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

Meet the Incredible Creature that could Live Until the End of the Earth
Credit: American Museum of Natural History

Tiny tardigrades could be the last survivors on Earth, study says

If Earth is struck by a catastrophic cosmic event and all living species go extinct, one micro-animal would still be alive.

Researchers from Oxford University have found that tiny eight-legged tardigrades are so resilient that they could survive even a planet-wide apocalypse. These creatures would outlive everything on Earth including humans until the Sun explodes and dies.

Also known as water bears, tardigrades are sea-dwelling creatures that eat moss and lichen. They can live for around 60 years and grow to a maximum size of 0.5mm. These tiny creatures are incredibly tough and can with withstand most extreme conditions with relative ease, making them nearly indestructible animals.

They can survive for up to 30 years without food or water and endure temperature extremes from as high as 150 degrees Celsius to as low as absolute zero. With these qualities, tardigrades will likely survive a number of astrophysical disasters that could potentially strike Earth in future, including supernovas, asteroid impacts and gamma-ray bursts. In any case, tardigrades should be around for at least 10 billion years - far longer than the human race.

“A lot of previous work has focused on 'doomsday' scenarios on Earth - astrophysical events like supernovae that could wipe out the human race. Our study instead considered the hardiest species - the tardigrade,” said study co author Dr David Sloan from Department of Physics at Oxford University.

“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. To our surprise we found that although nearby supernovae or large asteroid impacts would be catastrophic for people, tardigrades could be unaffected. Therefore it seems that life, once it gets going, is hard to wipe out entirely. Huge numbers of species or even entire genera may become extinct, but life as a whole will go on."

Though humans are a very sensitive to subtle changes in our environment, life on Earth in the form of more resilient species could continue to prosper long after humans are gone. The findings also have implications for searching life beyond Earth.

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

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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