In case you hadn’t heard, us humans are all going to be wiped out as a species sooner rather than later, when the world becomes uninhabitable for us. Happy Monday!
But wait, there’s some good news. While we might soon be extinct thanks to some combination of global warming, an asteroid, nuclear war or good, old-fashioned boredom (honestly, take your pick), there’s one species that will still be kicking about even when our children and our children’s children and our children’s children’s children are long gone.
The animal in question is the tardigrade, also known as the water bear or the moss piglet, a tiny animal that’s usually less than a millimetre in length. And when we’re all dead, they’ll still be knocking about, chilling in the radioactive wasteland that used to be Planet Earth.
Scientists David Sloan, Rafael Alves Batista and Abraham Loeb looked into the indestructibility of the little bastards (not a scientific term) in a paper entitled ‘The Resilience of Life to Astrophysical Events’.
“Surprisingly we find that although human life is somewhat fragile to nearby events, the resilience of Ecdysozoa such as Milnesium tardigradum [i.e. the tardigrade] renders global sterilisation an unlikely event,” they explain in the paper, published last week.
“Tardigrades can survive for a few minutes at temperatures as low as −272 °C or as high as 150 °C, and −20 °C for decades… For complete sterilisation we must establish the necessary event to kill all such creatures.”
Sloan, Alves Batista and Loeb artificially created situations in an attempt to ascertain what was needed to entirely ‘sterilise’ the planet of all life forms. This is how they discovered that tardigrades can withstand roughly 1,000 times the radiation levels that would likely kill all humans.
And as for the asteroid option? As the Washington Post explains, the size needed to wipe out the little nippers is so rare that there is literally more chance of the sun dying first.
But don’t worry, folks, if you were starting to root for the tiny creatures then biologist and ‘tardigrade expert’ William R. Miller is here to shit all over your science.
He’s thrown a couple of spanners in the works – first by suggesting the study was wrong not to break down the different species of tardigrade, and then by reminding us that humans are bastards.
“We work with active animals and they're quite easily murdered,” he told the Washington Post. “We kill thousands of them every day.”
Well isn’t that nice and bleak.
(Main image: iStockPhoto/Eraxion)