Reproducing after 30 years frozen

Moss piglets, water bears, tardigrades. Their spectacular feats often reach the public eye and wow those learning about them. Not only can they survive in some mind-bogglingly harsh conditions, such as the small matter of the vacuum of space, they can enter a state of total metabolic shutdown – cryptobiosis.

At just 0.2mm in length this animal more than makes up for its tiny size with its impressive survival skills. Researchers have recently revived tardigrades that had been frozen for over 30 years. Not only that, but the water bears went on to successfully reproduce.

Since their collection from Antarctica in 1983, the tardigrades (Acutuncus antarcticus) had been frozen at -20°C. Scientists hoping to further understand cryptobiosis brought back two of the water bears to the land of the living, along with one of their eggs. The recovery time is slow – there were faint movements on day one of being unfrozen, but it was two weeks before the animals could effectively crawl and feed. But even so, that isn’t bad considering they were lifeless and desiccated for over 30 years. They were able to later reproduce, and the revived egg also hatched, with their offspring showing no signs of abnormalities or side-effects of their deep freeze.

Image Credit & Copyright: Nicole Ottawa & Oliver Meckes / Eye of Science / Science Source Images

Megumu Tsujimoto, Satoshi Imura, Hiroshi Kanda. (2016) Recovery and reproduction of an Antarctic tardigrade retrieved from a moss sample frozen for over 30 years. Cryobiology, 72 (1): 78 DOI:10.1016/j.cryobiol.2015.12.003

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