They can endure the cold reaches of space. Go without food or water for up to 30 years. And are nearly indestructible. But they’re, like, really tiny. So, there’s not a whole lot we can do with them.
However. What if tardigrades were the size of humans? How could we use them? Would we live in harmony? Or are we no longer top of the food chain?
This is a tardigrade. Kind of looks like an eight-legged bear doesn’t it? Well, an eight-legged bear from your nightmares is more accurate.
While only measuring in at 1.2 millimeters (0.05 inches) max, these little guys are tough as nails. Tardigrades are classified as extremophiles. This means that they can roll with the punches in whatever extreme environment they call home. They can go 30 years without food or water, thrive in an absolute zero or above boiling temperature, and survive in pressures six times that of our ocean’s deepest trenches.
These teeny tanks can thank a unique protein for their resiliency, known as Dsup, which is short for “damage suppressor”. So, what would life be like if tardigrades had a growth spurt?
Well, picture this. You’ve got a nice little pond in your backyard. It’s quaint, relaxing, and really brings the whole yard together. Well, freshwater sediments like your pond may have as many as 25,000 tardigrades per liter, or almost 100,000 of them per gallon.
But now, things aren’t as cozy. Imagine taking a look out your window and seeing 25,000 human-sized tardigrades dogpiled in your backyard.
Our planet would be swamped with giant tardigrades. Okay, there’s got to be a plus side to this. Maybe we could use them for something?
What if you rounded up a posse and went hunting for tardigrade? Could we use their hard outer hides to create protective wear and get some of that sweet, sweet Dsup for ourselves?
Tardigrades are encased in a rugged, flexible cuticle. Imagine a cow with armor similar to the exoskeletons of grasshoppers.
Maybe the military could use this pliable yet sturdy material for some heavy-duty tardigrade armor? Those are some cool ideas, but remember what I said about them being extremophiles? Yeah, they’re not going down that easy.
They don’t even care about things that would give humans a run for their money. Take droughts for example.
A dry environment might trigger a tardigrade to go into a cryptobiosis state. The tardigrade will squeeze all the water out of its body, retract its head and limbs, roll up into a little ball, and become dormant. This is known as a “tun”.
When in this form, the tardigrade’s metabolism slows to 0.01% of the normal rate. And it can maintain this halted state for decades, until it again comes into contact with water.
So, now that they’re asleep, you might be thinking it’s the perfect time to attack. Well, we wouldn’t recommend it. A giant, angry tardigrade has eight legs and four to six claws on each paw. Not to mention their dagger-like teeth that also make them ferocious killers.
Now thankfully, we don’t have to worry about our planet being overrun by human-sized tardigrades, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still learn from them. Because they are so resilient, we could gain a thing or two from these tiny titans. Such as how to develop more resilient crops by using their valuable Dsup protein.
I guess we could count ourselves lucky that if tardigrades were the size of humans, they’d be like big, lumbering cows. So at least they wouldn’t be flying around us, dive bombing our heads. Did you hear that? It kind of sounds like a bat.
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