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: globaltv.com

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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Go boldly, LISA Pathfinder

Here’s footage of the LISA Pathfinder launch, which happened at 4.04am GMT this morning. More to follow…

Update: December 11, 22:46

Fifteen years after the mission was approved, on December 3 the European Space Agency (ESA) launched LISA Pathfinder, a spacecraft that’ll test the waters for a grand experiment seeking evidence of gravitational waves, or ripples in the fabric of space-time.

The original date of launch was almost auspicious – it was delayed to a day after the 100th anniversary of the publication of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which predicted the existence of such gravitational waves. Who said scientists can’t be romantic?

Ripples in space-time are created by the collision of huge bodies in space, such as galaxies or supermassive black holes. They’ve never been directly observed, though there are teams looking out for them from Earth.

The purpose of LISA Pathfinder is to check whether we’d be able to pick up these ripples in space-time with our experiment setup.

LISA_Pathfinder_in_space
Source: ESA–C.Carreau

The spacecraft, currently orbiting the Earth, contains two identical 2kg gold-platinum cubes separated by 38cm. The cubes will be set in perfect freefall when Pathfinder reaches its final destination, at a point between the Earth and the Sun where they’ll be isolated from all external forces but gravity.

Pathfinder will see if we can achieve the freefall. In the real experiment, which will go ahead in 2034, a set of lasers will be bounced off three cubes in freefall, separated from each other by 5 million km, to detect deviations in their motion to the accuracy of a trillionth of a metre.

The craft will reach its intended orbit, 1.5 million kilometres away from the Earth around a sweet spot called Lagrange Point 1, next February.