Extreme stress tolerance in tardigrades: surviving space conditions in low earth orbit

Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research (Impact Factor: 1.91). 05/2011; 49(special issue):90-97. DOI: 10.1111/j.1439-0469.2010.00605.x

ABSTRACT Most terrestrial tardigrade species possess the ability to enter a reversible ametabolic state termed anhydrobiosis in response to desiccation. In the anhydrobiotic state, tardigrades display an incredible capacity to tolerate extreme environmental stress, not necessarily encountered in their natural habitat. In this study, we determine the effect of different extreme stresses on initial survival, long-term survival and fecundity of selected species of limno-terrestrial tardigrades. The primary focus was to assess the effect of cosmic radiation. This was achieved through the RoTaRad (Rotifers, Tardigrades and Radiation) project on the BIOPAN 6 mission, funded by Agenzia Spaziale Italiana under the European Space Agency. To test their tolerance of space environment, tardigrades were sent into low earth orbit, and exposed to cosmic radiation and a microgravity environment. Experiments on Whatman-3 filters show an effect of cosmic radiation on the survival of the eutardigrade Richtersius coronifer just after returning to Earth; however, after 2 years of desiccation on Whatman-3 filters, none of the tardigrades previously exposed to cosmic radiation could be revived. In a microcosmos experiment, the tardigrades R. coronifer, Ramazzottius oberhauseri and Echiniscus testudo were desiccated on a moss substrate together with rotifers and nematodes. Very low survival rates were observed in this experiment, likely due to the applied desiccation protocol. Embryos of the tardigrade Milnesium tardigradum were also exposed to cosmic radiation; they all hatched in the laboratory after the flight. In addition, experiments testing extreme cold and vacuum tolerance in R. coronifer show that tardigrades in anhydrobiosis are unaffected by these conditions.

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