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Amazing organisms and science: tardigrade, lichen and ocean fungi

Scientists from, among others, the University of North Carolina have identified a key mechanism contributing to the resilience of tardigrades, which can survive conditions harsher than those found on Earth – from space to temperatures close to absolute zero. Under the influence of pressure and thanks to a molecular switch involving the action of free radicals and cysteine oxidation, tardigrades enter a state of dormancy that is highly resistant to external conditions. That discovery could help research into ageing and space travel.

Attached to the outside of the International Space Station, the lichen survived 18 months in space without water, in extreme temperatures, and under conditions of cosmic rays and ultraviolet radiation while continuing to photosynthesize. It changes thinking about the possibility of life surviving on Mars. It provides evidence for the theory that life on Earth or another planet could have spread through lichens travelling on meteorites, comets or asteroids.

Fungi from the twilight parts of the oceans – from depths of 200 to 1,000 m – may be a source of drugs as strong and groundbreaking as penicillin once was. The largest-ever ocean DNA survey has revealed an abundance of fungi in this part of the ocean – the ocean DNA catalogue contains over 317 million gene groups of marine organisms compiled from samples collected during ocean voyages. The “twilight zone” is characterised by high pressure, lack of light and low temperatures, creating an extreme environment “in which fungi can demonstrate exceptional adaptability.”

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