Tardigrade

Try and Stop'em!

Adaptations

The adaptation of the tardigrade is phenomenal. When faced with extreme conditions, tardigrades can dry out completely, replacing almost all of the water in their bodies with a sugar called trehalose. Crytobiosis brings its metabolic processes to a halt, and this causes dehydration to 3 percent of its normal water content. Amazingly, by adding water, it returns to its original form.

Meet the Tardigrade

Tardigrades, meaning slow walkers, were first discovered by Johann August Ephraim Goeze in 1773, and are water-dwelling, segmented micro-animals that have roamed the earth and seas far before humans did. One of nature’s smallest creatures, the water bear is barely the size of a poppy seed, less than 1.5 millimeters long. They have 8 legs, but these legs are not jointed like the legs of insects and spiders. They have a relatively large brain and a well-developed nervous system.

Tardigrades live all over the world, and most species live in fresh water, often in habitats that are subject to frequent periods of drying and then rewetting such as the moss on the roof of a house. Because of their ability to form a tun, (this involves them pulling in their legs to give their body a cylindrical shape) they can be blown around in the wind like particles of dust, and can be found distributed all around the world.

Female tardigrades tend to lay their eggs inside their old cuticles as they molt, and these eggs are then fertilized by one or more males.

To test the resilience of a tardigrade, some were taken into space and survived the exposure to vacuum and cosmic rays, and some survived deadly levels of UV radiation. Water bears also can tolerate pressures six times that of the deepest oceans. And a few of them once survived an experiment that subjected them to 10 days exposed to the vacuum of space.

The tardigrade’s mouth is a serious weapon and its dagger-like teeth are used to spear algae and even other small animals. To hide from potential predators, the tardigrade can exist hidden in sediments.

Tardigrades are all suctorial feeders. They have two sharp stylets within their oral cavity which they use to pierce the cells of their food. They then suck the fluids out of the cell using the muscular pharynx as a pump. Most species feed on plant materials such as the mosses and algae that they live amongst.

Little is known about their evolution, and their fossils are hard to spot. For a long time, biologists grouped them with arthropods, other creatures, mostly small, with eight legs. Only recently have tardigrades been given their own phylum.

The adaptation of the tardigrade is phenomenal. When faced with extreme conditions, tardigrades can dry out completely, replacing almost all of the water in their bodies with a sugar called trehalose. Cryptobiosis brings its metabolic processes to a halt, and this causes dehydration to 3 percent of its normal water content. Amazingly, by adding water, it returns to its original form.

The Problem, The Research and The Prototype



The Problem:


Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart muscle doesn't pump blood as well as it should. Certain conditions, such as narrowed arteries in the heart or high blood pressure gradually leave the heart too weak or stiff to fill and pump efficiently. Because of the inefficiency, less blood is pumped to the kidneys and this causes fluid and water retention, resulting in swollen ankles, legs, abdomen, and weight gain. Thoracentesis is a procedure to remove fluid from the space between the lungs and the chest wall called the pleural space. It is done with a needle (and sometimes a plastic catheter) inserted through the chest wall.



The Research:

Trehalose is a cellular sugar that preserves the membranes that form the bodies of tardigrades. Removal of cellular sugar cells from tardigrades can be used to reduce fluid in patients with congestive heart failure. A device designed similar to the mouth of the tardigrade can be implanted in the lungs. The device will store trehalose, cellular sugar produced by the tardigrade that permits its instant dehydration cycle. This cellular sugar will be released into the lungs when fluid reaches a level determined by Pulmonary Doctors. The gradual release of trehalose into the lungs will reduce fluid rapidly, and without needles being used to draw the fluid from the lungs.



The Prototype:

A device designed similar to the mouth of the tardigrade can be implanted under the skin just above the right shoulder blade. Attached to the bottom of the device is a small tube that leads to the right lung, where it is permanently inserted. The device is a port that will be used to inject the cellular sugar produced by tardigrades. This cellular sugar will be injected into the port when fluid reaches a level determined by Pulmonary Doctors. The gradual release of trehalose into the lungs will reduce fluid rapidly, reducing swelling, making breathing less stressful.