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ntil the invention of the microscope, the world was not aware of “micro-animals” and their role within our ecosystem. Even to this day, many people are still not aware of their existence or of their importance in our life. Their look under a microscope is quite difficult to distinguish, but most of them look like insects from another planet, some scientists actually describe this microorganism as some sort of monster pulled out of science fiction movies.

What is more interesting is that these microorganisms may have been the first form of life within our world, with some microbiologists even believing they date back to 3.5 billion years ago. The Tardigrade is one of the most common microorganisms and this is due to its ability to survive under extreme conditions with no food or water, under extreme weather, and even with little to no oxygen.

Bringing life from 24,000 years ago back to life

Researchers from Russia led by MIcrobiologist Lyubov Shmakova have extracted ice from the Siberian permafrost and slowly allowed it to melt in order to bring back to life the microorganisms within the ice. To their surprise, the microorganisms who have been frozen for the past 24,000 years were all well and in shape.

Tardigrade moving under the microscope (Source: Lyubov Shmakova)

This has proved the hypothesis made by the scientists about these microorganisms (such as the Tardigrade), that besides being able to survive in extreme conditions, they are also able to withstand thousands of years in cryptobiosis (a state of deep hibernation by freezing the organism).

“Our report is the hardest proof as of today that multicellular animals could withstand tens of thousands of years in cryptobiosis, the state of almost completely arrested metabolism,” co-author Stas Malavin of the Soil Cryology Laboratory at the Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science in Pushchino, Russia, said in a statement.

What allows these microorganisms to survive for so long?

Although it was known that these small microorganisms can live in a state of cryptobiosis, it was only believed they would survive for around 10 years at best, but never for so long. Scientists still scratch their hands as they do not understand the complex biological mechanisms that allow these microorganisms to stay in this state for such a long time without dying.

Photo of Tardigrade under the microscope (Source: Michael Plewka)

Some historians even argue that osmobiosis (a type of cryptobiosis) has played an important role in the evolution of these microorganisms in the last 3 billion years. When the weather would get to an extreme point such as within the first Ice Age, they would turn towards the state of cryptobiosis in order to survive.

It is the size of these small microorganisms which brings a challenge to scientists, right now the technology is not advanced enough to go down to a molecular level in order to understand the way the cells within these microorganisms function which allows the recovery of all-natural processes after cryptobiosis.

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