Life after the freezer: diary of a time-travelling tardigrade

It emerged this week that a team of cryobiologists in Japan had recovered two tardigrades – aquatic microscopic invertebrates sometimes known as water bears – after they’d spent more than 30 years in the freezer.

These particularly hardy specimens were collected in November 1983 from moss samples in East Antarctica. Since then, they’d been chilling out in storage at a bracing -20C. Tardigrades survive freezing conditions by entering cryobiosis – a state where their metabolism can drop to 0.01% of its normal level.

Last May, they came out of the deep freeze, and were left to thaw. The two surviving individuals, nicknamed Sleeping Beauty (SB)-1 and SB-2, were placed on a culture plate and given some Volvic and algae to munch on.

KFS managed to prise from the tiny hands of SB-1 a daily log of its goings on since the Great Thaw, exclusively reproduced here.

Diary of a time-travelling tardigrade

Day 1: Ooh, my back. How long was I out for? Ok, so I can move one pair of legs, but I distinctly remember having more than that before. Think I’ll just rest for a bit.

Day 5: Discovered two more pairs of legs today. Feeling more like myself. I won’t be moonwalking anytime soon, but give it some time. Now I have some use of my limbs, I can finally book those tickets for Return of the Jedi.

Later that day: (On the phone) What? We’re on episode 7 now? What is “go online”?

Even later that day: So it looks like that little Quualudes bender from 1983 took me out for more than 30 years. We’re on The Force Awakens now. Wait a minute, does this make me The Force?

Day 9: Ok, and I’m on the move. Managed to lift myself up and start crawling again. Don’t know what came over m- ooh, is that food? I might just move towards it…

Day 13: ALGAE?!? I’ve been asleep for 30 years and this is all you have for me? Jonesing for a Pepsi Free.

Day 21: Knocked myself up today. Got three eggs on the go. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, right?

Day 23: Eggs are laid! I just opened something called a Facebook page so I can share pictures of my brood with the world. Apparently the only viable profile pictures are ones you’ve taken of yourself. Here’s my best effort:

tardigrade selfie 1
Hello, handsome. Credit:

I did a bit of snooping and it looks like most of my friends have evaded capture by the white coats. Echinisca’s still kicking in Antarctica and Acutopher’s finally taking that trip to the Marianas Trench, but no one knows where Batillipina went. Rumour is she hitched a ride on the white coats’ Curiosity rover a few years back and we haven’t heard from her since. Hope she’s messing with their data. Life on Mars? Don’t make me laugh. We put an end to that long ago…

sb-3 tardigrade
One of SB-1’s brethren after an algae supper. Scale bar = 100 μm. Credit: ScienceDaily

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