Questions for ‘Living mysteries: Why teeny-weeny tardigrades are tough as nails’

a scanning electron microscope image of a tardigrade

Tardigrades are tiny eight-legged animals that often live in moss, lichens and soil. This one is magnified 1,000 times through an electron microscope. Amazingly, tardigrades can survive 500 times the amount of radiation that would kill a human. Scientists are starting to understand how.


To accompany “Living mysteries: Why teeny-weeny tardigrades are tough as nails


Before Reading:

1.  Describe at least three “extreme” environments. What makes them extreme? Would it be hard for humans to exist there? Why?

2.  Pick one of your extreme environments. What adaptations would animals or plants need to live there? What about people?

During Reading

1.  What is a tardigrade? How many legs does it have? How big is one?

2.  What are three types of radiation that tardigrades can survive in high doses? Why is it surprising that tardigrades can endure this?

3.  Describe two other extreme environments that tardigrades can withstand.

4.  Why do tardigrades need a way to survive being dried out?

5.  What are two ways that drying can damage cells?

6.  How is the tardigrade’s ability to survive drying likely connected to its ability to survive high doses of radiation?

7.  How do lake flies manage to survive drying out?

8.  What does the Dsup protein do for tardigrades that lives in clumps of moss on city streets in northern Japan?

9.  How do CAHS proteins protect tardigrade cells when they dry out?

10.  How might knowledge of how tardigrades survive extreme environments one day help astronauts to grow food in space?

After Reading:

1.  The story presents various pieces of evidence showing how tardigrades might be able to survive not only drying out but also the environs of space, deep cold and high-radiation environments. Which pieces are most convincing? Which were not? If you were studying tardigrades, where might you put your efforts to help complete this puzzle? Why did you choose those?

2.  The last paragraph of the story says that at least from the tardigrade’s point of view, “Earth is a tough place to live.” Can that also apply to humans? Why or why not?