Asleep at -272°C


The tardigrade, or water bear, is a type of invertebrate animal that is extremely difficult to kill. Their bodies are less than 1mm long, so they can’t be seen without a microscope. They are found in all sorts of environments, both on land and in the sea, and can withstand extreme conditions, from hot springs and tropical regions to the deep sea, and even the cold of the North Pole. When a tardigrade finds itself in inhospitable environmental conditions, it drastically reduces the amount of water in its body. It then fills its body with a sugar called trehalose and enters a hibernating state called anhydrobiosis. In this state, the tardigrade is likely the toughest animal in the world; it can even survive the extreme temperature of -272°C without freezing to death. The trehalose in its body allows it to undergo a phenomenon called “supercooling” that protects its cells from freezing. It can also withstand high temperatures up to 150°C, the vacuum of outer space, the extreme pressure of 6,000 atmospheres, and can endure the radiation from a number of x-rays that would kill a human. A tardigrade can live in this state of anhydrobiois for up to 10 years. When given water, it wakes up and resumes activity as normal, assisted by the trehalose in its body.

Functional Classification

Cold resistanceHeat resistanceDormancy

Environmental Solution Classification

Related Literature

Technical Application

Researchers have successfully cloned a mouse from cells that had been anhydrobiotically frozen for 16 years. This suggests that it may someday be possible to likewise freeze and preserve human cells for extended periods of time. With further advancement, this technology could be useful for organ and cell transplants, especially when used in conjunction with cloning technology. Finally, if applied to food, this process could allow ingredients to remain fresh even after freezing and thawing.

Products and Services

  • Mouse clones.

Type of Business

Proposals of Applied Technology

It is clear from the example of the tardigrades that trehalose has the ability to protect cells from the usual ill effects of freezing and dehydration. The substance therefore has potential application in both medicine and food storage, by making freeze-drying a viable method of cell preservation.

Proposals of Applied Industry

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