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Meet the extremophiles, so-called because they can withstand environments so intensely hot, cold, salty, acidic, alkaline, pressurized, dry, radioactive, or barren they’d put us out like a match in a hurricane. So impressive are their superpowers that NASA made them trading cards, just like Superman.
No question—if there were a cute extremophile contest, the tardigrade (above) would win. They even have a cute a nickname—“water bear”—and look like manatees dressed in spacesuits for Halloween.
Measuring about a millimeter long, the tardigrade is a polyextremophile, which means its capable of surviving numerous harsh conditions. Sarah Bordenstein of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole writes that they can withstand temperatures from -328 °F (200 °C) up to 304 °F (151 °C), lack of water and oxygen, “boiling alcohol,” (who thought of that?) and a thousand times the radiation we can take.
One way they survive is by going into cryptobiosis, a state of suspended animation, in which body functions like metabolism temporarily shut down. They’ll stay in this shrunken state—in which they’re called a “tun”—until conditions improve. They have been known to do this for decades.