Tardigrades: nature’s great survivors

Tardigrades: nature’s great survivors

The Guardian

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The microscopic animals can withstand extreme conditions that would kill humans, and may one day help in the development of Covid vaccines. How do they do it?

On 11 April 2019, a spacecraft crashed on to the Moon. The Israeli Beresheet probe was supposed to land gently in the Mare Serenitatis, a huge plain of basalt rock formed in a volcanic eruption billions of years ago. It would have been the first privately funded mission to land on the Moon. But owing to a last-minute instrument failure Beresheet did not slow down enough and slammed into the surface at 500 kilometres per hour.

From the Moon’s point of view, this was a failed alien invasion. Beresheet was carrying animals called tardigrades, which look like stunted, microscopic caterpillars. They may not seem like an obvious candidate for interplanetary travel, but tardigrades are famed among biologists for their ability to survive conditions that would kill almost any other animal. It is possible that some of them survived the crash.

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