A team of researchers from the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) have discovered a new species of tardigrade near Vadakara. This new species has been christened Stygarctus keralensis. The team that made this discovery was led by S Bijoy Nandan ( professor at the Department of Marine Biology, Microbiology and Biotechnology). He was accompanied by Vishnudattan N K and Jayachandran P R (Cusat), and Dr JG Hansen, University of Copenhagen.
Tardigrades are extremophiles. This means they can survive in environments that seem impossible for other lifeforms. Tardigrades can live up to 30 years without food and water. They can thrive at temperatures as cold as absolute zero or above boiling, at pressures six times that of the ocean’s deepest trenches. What’s more impressive is that they can survive the vacuum of space – enduring microgravity and cosmic radiation.
Tardigrades are able to do so because their bodies have a unique protein, Dsup (short for “damage suppressor”). Dsup protects their DNA from any harm by things like ionizing radiation. They are also capable of going into cryptobiosis, which is a state of metabolic inactivity triggered by adverse conditions (think of it as the natural version of the sleeping pods that astronauts go into in space flight in sci-fi movies). When in cryptobiosis, they squeeze all the water out of their bodies, retract their head and limbs, take the shape of a ball. They resume metabolic activities when conditions become favourable again.
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Around 1300 species of tardigrades have been found so far. This new species was found during an ongoing MoES-NCESS study on the ecology and diversity of submarine groundwater habitats of Kerala. “Earlier, there have been a few unauthenticated reports of marine tardigrade by the Zoological Survey of India, whereas the S keralensis discovered now is the first taxonomically described marine tardigrade from Indian waters published in Zootaxa (2021), vol 4985 (3). It is also the first sighting of a marine tardigrade on the west coast of India”, S Nandan told the Times of India.