Surviving the Vacuum of Space: The Water Bear

Space is a harsh environment.

To date, there is only one species on our planet that was found capable of surviving the vacuum of space – the water bear. In fact, in 2008 scientists put water bears in space for ten days with no protection. Once they returned home and given water, the water bears came to life, and hatched live eggs! What is, even more, is the range of environments the water bear can survive in.water bears being rocketed into space

The water bear’s resume is impressive indeed. It can survive from the vacuum of space to pressures six times greater than those at the bottom of the ocean. It can also survive in temperatures from absolute zero to survive in boiling water. And lethal radiation or a century-long lack of water can not deter the water bear.

How did water bears develop the skill of surviving the vacuum of space?

Obviously, this incredible resume of survival is one to be envied. Scientists have been looking to find how the water bear has accumulated all of these tools over time. It turns out, there is one other unique trait to the water bear. It has the most foreign DNA of any animal.

No, that doesn’t mean it has alien DNA, but instead means the water bear is incredibly good at picking up DNA from other organisms.  Essentially, over billions of years, the water bear has been downloading DNA code from everywhere and using it. Of course, using random DNA code could cause an organism to easily self-destruct. The water bear, however, has multiple backups of its code along with a robust system of checking and supporting DNA code from all sorts of places. The water bear has even picked up a few tricks from fungi and plant DNA!