The bugs that just refused to die


THE toughest members of the animal kingdom are mites less than half a millimetre long. Tardigrades, tiny mites nicknamed “water bears” because of their bear-like appearance, were known to be able to survive boiling, freezing and exposure to a vacuum. Now Kunihiro Seki and Masoto Toyoshima of Kanagawa University in Japan have shown that these microscopic animals can even withstand pressures of 6000 atmospheres—nearly six times the pressure at the bottom of the deepest ocean trench (Nature, vol 395, p 853). The tardigrades achieve this feat of endurance by going into a state of suspended animation known as a “tun”, which they can maintain for more than a century. “The volume of the body is reduced by 50 per cent or more, accompanied by an almost total loss of water,
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