PZ has confronted me with utterly damning evidence that I have been an anti-squirrel crusader since at least 1918.
It’s all true! I am an ancient and ageless creature, whose ritual drinking of squirrel blood has kept me virtually immortal for so many millennia I have lost count. And yes, I’ve created and maintained relentless anti-squirrel propaganda campaigns throughout history whenever and wherever I can—including right here at Freethought Blogs—lest the nasty little beasties end up on some “protected species” list or something and I lose access to the elixir I desperately require. (Obviously, I cannot rely on the black market or worse, the dark web.)
But as readers have seen here for themselves, no matter how much terrorism, violence and wanton destruction the Sciuridae routinely leave in their wake, it is practically impossible to get humans to buy into the fact that they are not just adorable and harmless little rodents.
Which is why, as a stopgap measure, I’ve got a side project going: I refer, of course, to the tardigrades.
You see, I have been carefully studying tardigrades at my virtual zoo for years now:
Tardigrades (Phylum: Tardigrada) are also known as water bears or moss piglets. They are teeny, tiny, water-dwelling, eight-legged animals prevalent in moss and lichen. About 1 millimeter (0.039 in) in length when fully grown, they can be seen under a low-power microscope. Tardigrades are able to survive in extreme environments that would kill almost any other animal: they can withstand temperatures from just above absolute zero to well above the boiling point of water, pressures about 6 times stronger than found in the deepest ocean trenches on Earth, ionizing radiation at doses hundreds of times higher than would kill a human, and the vacuum of outer space. They can go without food or water for many years, drying out to the point where they are less than 3% water and suspending their metabolism (cryptobiosis)—then rehydrate, forage, and reproduce. Tardigrades have been found in hot springs, on top of the Himalayas, under layers of solid ice, in ocean sediments, in lakes, ponds, meadows, stone walls and roofs. Usually males and females are present, but some species are parthenogenetic.
Here is Big Willie Tardigrade Guru Professor Bob Goldstein at his UNC Chanel Hill laboratory discussing the little critters:
I am sure you can see where this is going.
That’s right, people: I have hypothesized that if I consume enough tardigrades, I will be not just virtually immortal, but an extremophile to boot! I too will be able to reproduce myself parthenogenetically, suspend my metabolism at will, withstand temperatures from just above absolute zero to well above the boiling point of water, pressures 6 times stronger than the deepest ocean trenches, and survive massive doses of ionizing radiation and the vacuum of outer space. Just imagine what I could accomplish, people!
Naturally, I sent an urgent missive to Professor Goldstein at his lab to get started on this exciting and important research project:
Dear Professor Goldstein:
I am a New York City-based columnist and blogger who usually writes about sex (I’m for it!) as well as politics and religion (I’m against ’em!), and who finds herself weirdly enamored with tardigrades. I also write to promote science, skepticism, and the sheer transcendent joy to be found in discovering the wonders of the natural world. To that end I maintain a virtual zoo on my personal blog, in which I have a tardigrade specimen named Schnoot.
If I sound like a kook so far, well you’re probably right but I hope you will bear(!) with me.
Professor Goldstein, have you ever eaten tardigrades?
What do they taste like?
Do you have any good recipes?
What wine pairing would you recommend?
Are you now immortal?
Are they poisonous or otherwise dangerous to eat?
Would you recommend that I cook them (over 303 degrees F of course!) before I eat them, or do you think I have to eat them live in order to become immortal?
With many thanks and kind regards,
-Iris Vander Pluym
Well. It has been nearly three years since I wrote him, and I still have not heard back from Prof. Goldstein. WHAT THE FUCK PROFESSOR GOLDSTEIN.
It’s like he doesn’t even want to share the Nobel prize with me. (I know, right?!) Or maybe he’s just been very busy securing the funding.
Regardless, UNC post-doc fellow Thomas C. Boothby is the lead author on a recently released paper in Molecular Cell reporting some very interesting findings on tardigrade DNA. LiveScience reported on the study [h/t Marcus & Nathan]:
Previously, a sugar called trehalose was thought to be the key to tardigrade regeneration. This sugar is found in other types of animals and in plants, and is known to play a role in tolerance to dry conditions. However, prior studies of tardigrade biochemistry found little evidence that these animals have trehalose, suggesting that the sugar isn’t the main driver for tardigrade recovery.
In the new study, researchers analyzed tardigrade genetic activity as the micro-animals dried out. First, the scientists identified which genes were highly active at the time, and then the researchers looked closely at what those genes do.
Results showed that certain genes were expressing a type of protein unique to tardigrades, which the scientists dubbed tardigrade-specific intrinsically disordered proteins, or TDPs.
TDPs protected the tardigrades in much in the same way that trehalose protects other animals, by forming glass-like structures that help to preserve cells that are in a dehydrated state.
Anyway, I gotta run. I need to contact this Thomas C. Boothby d00d right away about my immortal parthenognetic extremophile transformation. Hopefully I’ll have better luck getting a timely response from him.