"Survivor: Extremophile Edition" Results Show
September 9, 2008 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Is life possible even in the coldest depths of space? If so, this tough little guy has long been thought to be a good candidate. Now, finally, analysis of the Tardigrades (a.k.a. "water bears") exposed to open space as part of the TARDIS project is finally complete. So what's the verdict?

Epic win. Here's the abstract and links to the complete results. (Previously here.)
posted by saulgoodman (39 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Perhaps we all evolved from tardigrades from outer space! Interesting article.
posted by binturong at 1:49 PM on September 9, 2008


Awesome!
posted by zach4000 at 1:54 PM on September 9, 2008


BEWARE SPACE BEARS
posted by bonehead at 1:57 PM on September 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm a 'tard for tardigrades!

Ok, not really. Just wanted to say 'tard.
posted by owtytrof at 1:57 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes, but are they bigger on the inside?
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:57 PM on September 9, 2008 [7 favorites]


I chuckled at the cutesy little disclaimer on the tadigrades.com home page that warned you might develop an "addictive" fascination if you kept reading. Then I looked at the clock and realized I'd been reading about water bears for thirty damn minutes.
posted by nanojath at 2:00 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I bet I could take one though, armed with a knife (say, six or eight inches long).
posted by bonehead at 2:01 PM on September 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


People Evacuting Tardigrades Atmosphere.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 2:06 PM on September 9, 2008


Perhaps we all evolved from tardigrades from outer space!

Enh. The best explanation I've seen for abiogenesis is Peptide Nucleic Acids giving rise to RNA, with self-organizing lipid bilayers acting as a crude cellular wall.

If we evolved from any lifeform as complex tardigrades, then it stands to reason we would see no evidence of simpler lifeforms in the fossil record before the existence of tardigrades. As far as I'm aware, we do.
posted by Ryvar at 2:18 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Looks like feces with claws. No wonder it can survive anything.
posted by hal9k at 2:20 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've been in love with waterbears since the previous post on this, and am glad this project reached a conclusion. Fascinating stuff.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:29 PM on September 9, 2008


As far as I'm aware, we do.

Yep, stromatolites.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:34 PM on September 9, 2008


If we evolved from any lifeform as complex tardigrades, then it stands to reason we would see no evidence of simpler lifeforms in the fossil record before the existence of tardigrades. As far as I'm aware, we do.

Killjoy.
posted by jokeefe at 2:37 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


In space no one can hear you obsessively showering and scrubbing.

Space bugs!? Getthemoffgetthemoffgetthemoffgetthemoffgetthemoffgetthemoff.
posted by loquacious at 2:39 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm partial to McKenna's psilocybin spore panspermia theory, personally.
posted by symbioid at 3:04 PM on September 9, 2008


"Why should we send dry aquatic invertebrates into space..."

For some I'm finding this really entertaining to say out loud. Over and over. In funny voices.

(It's been a rough couple of weeks.)
posted by neroli at 3:05 PM on September 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Now that we have established that they can survive the vacuum of space, we need to figure out a way to make them much, much bigger and capable of supporting human life inside them.

Well figure out how to make Moya a reality yet!
posted by quin at 3:06 PM on September 9, 2008


Super cool!
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:13 PM on September 9, 2008


It's true.

I did it in Spore.

/off to the Creature Creator.....
posted by wah at 3:19 PM on September 9, 2008


If we evolved from any lifeform as complex tardigrades..

I was being facetious -- but at the same time making the point that tardigrades are not the only life form that can survive interstellar environments, only the first animals shown to be capable of it. Many extremophiles can exist in these conditions and there is evidence that extraterrestrial forms of life may reach Earth on meteorites. The hypothesis that life was first brought to Earth from space is quite legitimate, even though unnecessary.
posted by binturong at 3:25 PM on September 9, 2008


I was being facetious

Oh, I know. It's just that, as Jokeefe points out, I once saw someone being happy and the experience was so scarring that I dedicated my life to eradicating joy in all its various manifestations right then and there.

At any rate, if you haven't read up on PNAs and lipid bilayers as a serious candidate for abiogenesis, it's worth your time.
posted by Ryvar at 3:32 PM on September 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


I for one welcome our new Space Bear Overlords.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:53 PM on September 9, 2008


Hurrah for water bears!

I think they are so adorable. I always wanted to cuddle them, but they're too wee for such a thing. This lady makes plush ones, and she makes custom toys on request.

I think I'm going to buy myself a plush tardigrade!
posted by winna at 3:56 PM on September 9, 2008


I’d like to welcome a Space Bear Overlord. Man, that’d be kickass.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:11 PM on September 9, 2008


BEEEEAAARRRRS IN SPAAAAAACEEEEE!!!

I love bears, even in space, especially in space. Not the ones who eat people. Ok, especially the ones that eat people.
posted by Divine_Wino at 4:41 PM on September 9, 2008


It's all fun and games until giant tardigrades from Yuggoth turn up, plop your brain in a copper cylinder and cart YOU off to outerspace, to see how you like it for a change.
posted by Artw at 4:47 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


ah, sci-fi and the quest for sci-truth

...a phenomenon that's piqued scientific curiosity and prompted researchers to shoot tardigrades into naked orbit around the Earth.

I love scientists, good writers and combinations of the two.
posted by woodway at 4:52 PM on September 9, 2008


I'm partial to McKenna's psilocybin spore panspermia theory, personally.

I used to be. And I was biased and excessively hopeful. Then I talked to a bunch of hard core mycologists and many of them considered McKenna to be a very annoying quack and/or weirdo. He's not a mycologist, really - and if fungal spores were responsible for the origination of life on Earth, the fossil record is all kinds of wrong for that hypothesis.

Combined with the above I did some thought experiments about the plausibility of interstellar panspermia by way of spores (or other small organisms.)

Guessing wildly and intuitively - interpreting from recent data from Voyager that gives us the shape of our solar wind as it relates to the stream of interstellar material, I don't think solar winds are strong enough to push spores interstellar distances, and even if they were, it'd take so damn long to push them to other planetary systems that the whole theory rapidly becomes untenable.

Even at nearly light speed the time and distance scales for interstellar distances is truly fucking daunting.

However, we still haven't really nailed down the timescale of the universe. The Big Bang may be disproved as a theory. Given enough time and enough matter and enough environments that support the abiogenesis or otherwise foster pre-existing interstellar transfers of life, there's no reason to believe that interstellar space isn't (relatively) saturated with biological material like spores, bacterium, virii or even water bears.

Given enough time, chaos and entropy all kinds of wild things are entirely possible. In my humble opinion I think that abiogenesis is much more likely than very small creatures being blown around the galaxy and finding suitable environs. We've seen a lot of evidence about how matter likes to self-organize into anti-entropic complexity despite the prevalence of entropy and chaos in the universe.
posted by loquacious at 5:44 PM on September 9, 2008


If we evolved from any lifeform as complex tardigrades, then it stands to reason we would see no evidence of simpler lifeforms in the fossil record before the existence of tardigrades. As far as I'm aware, we do.

Or maybe they just evolved from graboids.

Val:"I got it, I got it... They're mutations caused by radiation. Or no no no, the government built them... big suprise for the Russians."
Rhonda:"Well there is nothing like them in the fossil record. I'm sure... ok, so they pre-date the fossil record. That would make them a couple billion years old... and we just never seen one till now. Right..."
Earl:"I vote for outer space. No way these are local boys."
posted by DanielDManiel at 5:55 PM on September 9, 2008


However, we still haven't really nailed down the timescale of the universe. The Big Bang may be disproved as a theory.

Buh? Dude, I'm sure you know this, but cosmic microwave background radiation as measured by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe and accounting for redshift from the Doppler effect = pretty ironclad proof the universe was in a black body state 13.4 to 13.7 billion years ago.

If you're looking at that fact, and our current snapshot of an accelerating expanding universe, and walking away with a conclusion *other* than the Big Bang shortly prior to that black body state, I am genuinely curious to know what that conclusion is and what the supporting arguments are.

I really don't mean to be a dick, it's just that I know how smart and well-informed you are and I'm genuinely floored by you saying that.
posted by Ryvar at 6:03 PM on September 9, 2008


Buh? Dude, I'm sure you know this, but cosmic microwave background radiation as measured by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe and accounting for redshift from the Doppler effect = pretty ironclad proof the universe was in a black body state 13.4 to 13.7 billion years ago.

Agreed. Current data and theory support this, and I won't argue against it - and it's the best known hypothesis, considering what we currently know. I misspoke a bit, language is tricky, feel free to bite my shiny metal ass, etc.

But it's not over, yet. I know these are weasel-words and I'm being very general on purpose. Not all of the data is in yet, and I'd bet a fair amount of money (if I had it) that there will be game changing discoveries in cosmology in the next hundred years or so.

I don't have any proof of any of this. I'm not a physicist. If I'm anything I'm just some arm chair generalist, intuitive philosopher with a fairly strong interest in physics and cosmology. My intuition has been yelling at me over the years that the Big Bang just doesn't make any sense and it "feels wrong" and seems terribly forced and inelegant - and if it is indeed what happened, why wouldn't it be cyclical? Where did all that momentum and energy for a big bang come from? Where would it go in a crunch?

Which is most likely moot as far as theories of panspermia are concerned, as it would be impossible for low-level life such as spores to survive either a big bang or big crunch, which doesn't discount the idea of high-level - Say, type V or beyond on the energy consumption/availability scale - civilizations being able to slip past it somehow, or even intentionally "seeding" a post bang universe.


So, putting that tidbit aside - would it even be remotely feasible for stellar wind borne spores or small creatures to traverse interstellar distances in (much less than, accounting for planetary and solar formations and then time enough for abiogenesis) 13 billion years?

Or, discarding that - the Earth is roughly dated at 4.5 billion years - roughly half or a third of the the time since the Bang - and with the 'precambrian' eon roughly spanning 3.8 billion years ago to about 500 million years ago - how long would it take a spore to drift from one solar system to the next? How far can they be pushed by solar winds? Could they even penetrate the barrier between solar and galactic wind, or would they just mostly flow around the laminar flow boundary as things tend to do in laminar flows?


But if I may be so gauche as to quote myself, I can sum up my wishy-washy weasel words best with this: "...know that there is and always has been more wonder in this universe than we will ever know."
posted by loquacious at 6:42 PM on September 9, 2008


Well, Ryvar, one alternative theory that isn't completely disreputable yet is the more recent version of the the cyclic model. And here's a list of 30 problems with the Big Bang model (the math here is over my head, so I don't know if these are legitimate problems or not). As I understand it, there's also at least one semi-respectable steady-state universe theory out there, too, in which the observable features we ascribe to the big bang are actually just localized phenomena in a much, much larger, more or less unchanging and infinite universe (but that might be hooey).

Remember, Big Bang theory was originally proposed by a priest who thought he'd found evidence of the moment of creation in his observations. Those observations have since worked out quite nicely, and no doubt, there must have been some serious cosmological event based on cosmic background radiation and other evidence, even if the big bang isn't the ultimate explanation--but the theories origins aren't the stuff of the most rigorous science. (Not to take a side--apparently, Newton was secretly a religious nut-job, too, but classical physics still holds in its domain.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:52 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm raising a triops now. Nungy, at 1.5 weeks old, thinks tardigrades look tasty. Especially in space.
posted by bonobo at 7:10 PM on September 9, 2008


I can understand the caution on the Big Bang as a specific genesis hypothesis, I suppose.

What I can't understand is the caution on the Universe being a black body 13.4-13.7 billion years ago. What existed prior to that may be ultimately unprovable, but as far as panspermia is concerned, all that really matters is that all around us is the doppler-shifted echo of Universe-spanning black body radiation. Whatever process brought the Universe to that black body state is almost irrelevant - nothing mechanism for panspermia could possibly predate it.
posted by Ryvar at 7:16 PM on September 9, 2008


Sorry, no mechanism
posted by Ryvar at 7:17 PM on September 9, 2008


panspermia or no, the fact that life can survive in such hostile conditions at all significantly improves the chances of life turning up elsewhere in the universe. that's the big take home for me. in fact, to me, it seems less and less plausible that life of some kind shouldn't exist elsewhere in the universe.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:31 PM on September 9, 2008


Or on mars, for that matter. Who knows what survived in some kind of spore-like state there, especially if life was once abundant there (which is possible, since it was covered in water at one point).


Also, what exactly IS McKenna's theory? Is that the whole plant intelligence thing? I don't think he was suggesting that we evolved from mushrooms, only that mushrooms are an alien species. Having done mushrooms, I can kinda see where he's coming from, but then LSD, Ketamine and Ayuhuesca(sp) would have to be alien species, too, which doesn't even make sense.
posted by empath at 8:17 PM on September 9, 2008


Nahh, it's just a chemical that makes a slight change in our brains that makes everything all wacky. Such a thing is possible on earth, there's hundreds of mind-altering chemicals out there. 'Space Alien' is the only cultural context most of us have for part of the experience of tripping on mushrooms; it's exactly equivalent to ancients attributing hallucinogenic drugs as a divine gift.
posted by maus at 11:25 PM on September 9, 2008


Gah! Space is not a "frigid vacuum". Yes, the CBR is about 3K, but vacuum itself is really a big thermal insulator.
posted by Eideteker at 12:08 PM on September 10, 2008


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