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Tardigrades are only about 0.5 mm long. For a long time they were curiosity. Then, researchers noticed they lived on more of the planet’s surface than most animals. The surprise was when it was learned that they live in places that would freeze or fry other animals. The story became weirder when researchers found that tardigrades could even survive exposure to space. They made some ride on the outside of the space station and they lived. Now, their toughness is finally being better understood. It turns out that they produce a protein that can let them turn into;

“a frozen glass figurine, a process known as vitrification”- Wired

They effectively put themselves into suspended animation while in a form that lets them patiently for their situation to improve. One major implication has been the possibility of panspermia, the possibility that life on Earth started somewhere else in space and seeded the planet from very hardy life forms. The more immediate implication is that, with proper use of the protein, other living matter may become more resilient to harsh conditions. Aside from sci-fi implications of extraordinary humans, the more likely near-term application may be extending the life of live vaccines without the need for refrigeration or careful handling. Science never knows were science is going, yet another example of the value of pure research.

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