Japan: 'Water bear' reproduces after 30 years on ice

  • 15 January 2016
Media captionThe revived tardigrade measured about 0.3mm

Scientists in Japan say a microscopic creature called a tardigrade successfully reproduced after being frozen for more than 30 years.

Researchers at the National Institute of Polar Research in Tokyo defrosted and revived two of the tiny animals, which are also known as water bears, from a batch collected in the Antarctic in 1983, The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reports. While one tardigrade died after 20 days, the other began reproducing. It laid 19 eggs, of which 14 hatched successfully.

It marks a new record for the creatures - previously the longest survival rate recorded was nine years, The Mainichi newspaper notes. The study took place in 2014, but the results were published on Thursday.

Scientists are hoping to discover how tardigrades are able to survive hostile conditions for so long. "We want to unravel the mechanism for long-term survival by looking into damage to tardigrades' DNA and their ability to repair it," researcher Megumu Tsujimoto tells The Asahi Shimbun.

Tardigrades are often referred to as water bears because of their chunky bodies and bear-like claws. Despite their miniscule size, they are by all accounts one of the hardiest creatures on earth, surviving extreme heat, radiation and even a trip into space. They are able to slow down their metabolism until it practically stops, a process known as cryptobiosis, which enables them to withstand freezing.

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