The Tardigrade, World's Cutest Microscopic Animal, is Filled with Alien DNA

The Tardigrade, World's Cutest Microscopic Animal, is Filled with Alien DNA

The genome of the tardigrade, sometimes called a water bear, has been sequenced, and scientists say it contains more foreign DNA than any other animal.

The tardigrade is well known in biology as an incredibly strange, nigh-indestructible animal - but above all, it is adorable. You might call it a water bear, or a moss piglet. It's got that little pucker mouth! Those itty bitty legs! It lives in puddles, people - how are there not more childrens' books written about these parthenogenic critters. If it were only one thousand times larger, it could be a household pet.

As a subject of experimentation, there is little that has not been done to the hardy water bear. We know it can survive temperatures as low as -450 degrees; as high as 300 degrees. You could vent a moss piglet out an airlock in the depths of space and, assuming you find it again, bring it back to life a few hours later.

So it is already plausible that tardigrades can live in space - but are they actually aliens? Well, no, almost definitely not. But researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are making us wonder. According to them, the water bear's genome is unlike anything they've ever seen - or perhaps it is like a whole lot of things they've already seen.

"We had no idea that an animal genome could be composed of so much foreign DNA," said co-author Bob Goldstein, faculty in the biology department in UNC's College of Arts and Sciences.

"We knew many animals acquire foreign genes, but we had no idea that it happens to this degree."

Find out what scientists discovered when they sequenced the octopus' DNA.

Indeed, about one-sixth of the moss piglet's DNA has a foreign source, making actually sequencing the genome an extremely frustrating process.

All animals contain some foreign DNA within them; in humans, for example, this often happens when a virus gene-swaps its way into your body. This is called horizontal gene transfer, as opposed to vertical gene transfer (when parents transfer genes to their offspring). To have alien genes make up such a large proportion of your genetic code, something very strange has to be going on.

Tardigrades, which live in the droplets of water you find in moss and plants, typically dry out for long stretches of time, before rehydrating when their environment gets wet again. During these dry periods, their DNA is extremely "brittle," and bacterial, fungal, and plant DNA can find its way in. This happens randomly, but as with traditional natural selection, the best and most useful of these tend to stick around, making micro-puppies perhaps the most adaptable animal to have ever lived.

Says Thomas Boothby, first author of the study, "Animals that can survive extreme stresses may be particularly prone to acquiring foreign genes - and bacterial genes might be better able to withstand stresses than animal ones."

Ok, I made up "micro-puppy." Children's book authors, the ball is in your court.

Source: UNC News

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Is...is that thing considered cute? It looks like something from Resident Evil.

Also, if it doesn't have any documents, it's an...illegal alien.

Jokes.

As cool as this news is; can the title be any more clickbait-y? Come on now guys, alien DNA? Just be honest and say foreign DNA.

Looks at the Tardigrade

Welcome to Earf.

If it was big enough to go into a fish tank and have as a pet I'd have one. I do think it has some cute-like qualities.

It either looks like a flour sack with a gun sticking out the tied up hole or a very poorly done monster suit from a terrible monter movie...

Like Cowabungaa siad...don't do that. Really, don;t.

thaluikhain:
Like Cowabungaa siad...don't do that. Really, don;t.

I haven't seen a science and tech article here that hasn't been clickbait, hasn't been misleading about science, and hasn't simply been rewritten from another site. I don't see any indication that they've picked someone with scientific expertise for writing about science either. We had an article about a railgun that fired "Plasma" rounds. The rounds were in fact, aluminium. The only point at which plasma was mentioned in the primary source was as a cause for burns on the projectile.

This isn't the first time, and it won't be the last. Editorial needs to fix this. Failing that, if the escapist really can't be bothered trying, they should just close this section instead of misleading people.

Who am I kidding though? They don't check the comments. They don't run corrections.

-Dragmire-:
It either looks like a flour sack with a gun sticking out the tied up hole or a very poorly done monster suit from a terrible monter movie...

Well, TARDIgrade does resemble an object from Doctor Who, so....

I skipped the article and came straight here because of how click bait-y that title was.

Draconalis:
I skipped the article and came straight here because of how click bait-y that title was.

Maybe if enough of us complain they'll at least issue a correction. Or even check their old articles.

image

uhm yeah...no. cute is not a word I would ever use to describe it, it looks like some B version of a monster from an alien movie that latches on to suck your blood or something.

Now imagine one of these beauties the size of a real bear.

Loonyyy:

thaluikhain:
Like Cowabungaa siad...don't do that. Really, don;t.

I haven't seen a science and tech article here that hasn't been clickbait, hasn't been misleading about science, and hasn't simply been rewritten from another site. I don't see any indication that they've picked someone with scientific expertise for writing about science either. We had an article about a railgun that fired "Plasma" rounds. The rounds were in fact, aluminium. The only point at which plasma was mentioned in the primary source was as a cause for burns on the projectile.

This isn't the first time, and it won't be the last. Editorial needs to fix this. Failing that, if the escapist really can't be bothered trying, they should just close this section instead of misleading people.

Who am I kidding though? They don't check the comments. They don't run corrections.

I have actually seen several science articles that have been using other sources to completely bungle the original information and provide more misconceptions and misunderstandings of what was actually discovered and how science works in general. So not all of them are rewrites.

OT: I actually want to flag the article for moderation here, because that is severely needed. This article from start to finish is a perfect example of how NOT to write science articles.

Do NOT include actual FALSE information in the headline of an article. Do NOT blow a discovery out of proportion in order to chase sensationalism. I find myself repeating this over and OVER. If you are going to it RIGHT. Perfect way of showing that you're not a professional journalist? Write this article. Perfect way of showing a site does not properly monitor what is published? Let articles like this be published.

Please improve.

Yopaz:

Loonyyy:

thaluikhain:
Like Cowabungaa siad...don't do that. Really, don;t.

I haven't seen a science and tech article here that hasn't been clickbait, hasn't been misleading about science, and hasn't simply been rewritten from another site. I don't see any indication that they've picked someone with scientific expertise for writing about science either. We had an article about a railgun that fired "Plasma" rounds. The rounds were in fact, aluminium. The only point at which plasma was mentioned in the primary source was as a cause for burns on the projectile.

This isn't the first time, and it won't be the last. Editorial needs to fix this. Failing that, if the escapist really can't be bothered trying, they should just close this section instead of misleading people.

Who am I kidding though? They don't check the comments. They don't run corrections.

I have actually seen several science articles that have been using other sources to completely bungle the original information and provide more misconceptions and misunderstandings of what was actually discovered and how science works in general. So not all of them are rewrites.

Yeah, they're rewrites of multiple articles. I don't think that's much better to be honest. They don't do anything original. ANYTHING. They haven't broken a single story. They haven't reached any of the people referred to, in any of their articles I've read (Those people might actually correct them). I could be missing some brilliant stuff somewhere, but somehow, I doubt it.

I shouldn't be able to poke so many holes in so many of their stories. I have an interest in science, but my only background is in physics and engineering. Most of these articles contain basic errors that can be picked up by anyone. The most criminal one was the Plasma round one, where the embedded video a) showed no plasma b) showed that the title was a lie.

Speaking of which, way to bury the story Escapist. 2 paragraphs to get to the story, 3 to get to the meat, and 3rd to last to reveal that the title was a lie, and we're actually talking something ordinary and commonplace, just on a suprising level. This isn't "cool" or "neat". This is a boring tidbit, interesting to scientists in the field, where the degree of an ordinary process exceeded the expectation, that has been hyped up and spiced up for us. Look how cute it is. Isn't it interesting how strange it looks. It's a "micro puppy". The actual story? Not important, you wouldn't come here for science would you?

OT: I actually want to flag the article for moderation here, because that is severely needed. This article from start to finish is a perfect example of how NOT to write science articles.

Do NOT include actual FALSE information in the headline of an article. Do NOT blow a discovery out of proportion in order to chase sensationalism. I find myself repeating this over and OVER. If you are going to it RIGHT. Perfect way of showing that you're not a professional journalist? Write this article. Perfect way of showing a site does not properly monitor what is published? Let articles like this be published.

Please improve.

Brilliantly put.

This is an attrocity. We get it, you think geeks like science. So actually report on science. Do some. We don't need cute and radical, we don't need to be spoonfed, clickbait is no good, and deliberately misleading people and getting the facts wrong is unacceptable.

Yopaz is right. If I started a thread with a misleading title like this I would receive moderation. If I mislead people like this, I would receive moderation.

Science journalism is a mess, lots of mainstream reporting is absolute rubbish. And the Escapist is managing to be worse than that.

Science matters. If you actually give a fuck about it, and think we do too, then don't kill it, skin it, and prance around in its skin.

Loonyyy:

Yeah, they're rewrites of multiple articles. I don't think that's much better to be honest. They don't do anything original. ANYTHING. They haven't broken a single story. They haven't reached any of the people referred to, in any of their articles I've read (Those people might actually correct them). I could be missing some brilliant stuff somewhere, but somehow, I doubt it.[/quote}

Yeah, I think it's worse to be honest. If they rewrite a single article that may be considered plagiarism, but there's a chance they get things right simply because the original source may have had the right idea (which is rare), but if they mix various sources (none of which is the primary source) they are likely to misunderstand and bungle it up even more than the secondary source.

I shouldn't be able to poke so many holes in so many of their stories. I have an interest in science, but my only background is in physics and engineering. Most of these articles contain basic errors that can be picked up by anyone. The most criminal one was the Plasma round one, where the embedded video a) showed no plasma b) showed that the title was a lie.

Yeah, it's a shame. I love science, but there is rarely news on the matter worth reading, but to be fair science is quite boring. I am personally very excited about the relationship between expressed KLF4 and laminar blood flow which doesn't really make a headline.

[quote]Speaking of which, way to bury the story Escapist. 2 paragraphs to get to the story, 3 to get to the meat, and 3rd to last to reveal that the title was a lie, and we're actually talking something ordinary and commonplace, just on a suprising level. This isn't "cool" or "neat". This is a boring tidbit, interesting to scientists in the field, where the degree of an ordinary process exceeded the expectation, that has been hyped up and spiced up for us. Look how cute it is. Isn't it interesting how strange it looks. It's a "micro puppy". The actual story? Not important, you wouldn't come here for science would you?

Yeah, if it weren't for the headline this article wouldn't have been read. I find it kinda interesting since I hadn't actually thought about the destabilization of DNA in the tardigrade during environmental stress and its induced likelihood of horizontal gene transfer, but it's obvious after it's been pointed out to me (this is what we do in the lab). It is not something I would talk about with family or friends outside my field.

Ethics in journalism, everybody? Man was I psyched for actual alien-DNA (versus alien DNA. Man, English is clickbaity all by itself).
It's a cute creature, although I second the sentiment that we can be glad it's that small.

Draconalis:
I skipped the article and came straight here because of how click bait-y that title was.

Quoted for semi-truth.

47_Ronin:
Ethics in journalism, everybody? Man was I psyched for actual alien-DNA (versus alien DNA. Man, English is clickbaity all by itself).
It's a cute creature, although I second the sentiment that we can be glad it's that small.

Draconalis:
I skipped the article and came straight here because of how click bait-y that title was.

Quoted for semi-truth.

Yeah, the title and overall presentation is pretty bad.

On the other hand, this degree of horizontal gene transfer really is interesting. If humans ever want to achieve biological immortality, the tardigrade and planarian are probably the two best places to start looking. They're both damned-near immortal as it is.

But yes, to everyone who is unfamiliar with the tardigrade... behold the noble tardigrade. It is arguably one of the most successful multi-cellular organisms on the planet. It (or one of its evolutionary descendants) will also likely be among the very last multi-cellular lifeforms to exist on planet Earth too. Long after humanity has moved on or returned to dust, and the sun has grown hot enough in its later years to destroy Earth's ability to sustain life... there will be tardigrades, holding on until the bitter end. Hell, maybe even until the Sun exits its main sequence and melts the entire surface of Earth down to molten slag.

Keep on keeping on, oh majestic water-bear.

I fell victim to the clickbaity title as well, as well as the article isn't written that well. Shame on you Escapist.

The critter is creepy as hell too.

Such a baffling piece of non-news riddled with non-scientific bullcrap. Brittle DNA? What the heck does that even mean?

TwistednMean:
Such a baffling piece of non-news riddled with non-scientific bullcrap. Brittle DNA? What the heck does that even mean?

To be fair, it's not non-news, the article on this site was just handled very poorly.

An organism with so much of its genome made up of foreign DNA acquired from elsewhere is super interesting from a biological standpoint. It challenges some preconceptions we had about how an organism's genome works, and may shed some light on how foreign DNA can be acquired in other organisms (albeit to a much less extreme degree), and how that might influence overall evolutionary trends.

Also, considering that tardigrades are nigh-indestructible and capable of surviving such extreme conditions, figuring out which genes contribute to that and where they originated from could lead to potentially interesting applications down the road.

[insert complaining about the lack of Susan Arendt around here]

That said, that water bear is kind of adorable (albeit not as cute as the OP wants me to believe).

gmaverick019:
image

uhm yeah...no. cute is not a word I would ever use to describe it, it looks like some B version of a monster from an alien movie that latches on to suck your blood or something.

Or maybe the things from Blue Gender?

image

Always wondered what those doohickeys on their face came from.

 

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