Scientists have spotted a new species of these extraordinary animals capable of absorbing potentially lethal ultraviolet radiation by emitting blue light that acts as a shield.
Tiny invertebrate creatures, tardigrades - also known as “water bears” - have long fascinated with their ability to live in extreme conditions. And these animals have not finished surprising us: “Researchers have just discovered a new species that can withstand [a time] ultraviolet rays so deadly that they are regularly used against viruses and bacteria that are difficult to kill” , Science reports.
As often, serendipity played a role in this discovery. While studying tardigrades collected on their campus in Bangalore, researchers at the Indian Institute of Science got their hands on a species that seemed new to them, although at the time they did not have enough evidence for it. to describe. They named it Paramacrobiotus BLR, for Bangalore.
When examining these animals under a fluorescence microscope, they were surprised to see them turn from reddish to scintillating blue under ultraviolet (UV) light. The fluorescent pigments, presumably located under the skin of tardigrades, absorbed UV light and turned it into harmless blue light, forming a sort of "shield," the team reported on Oct. 14 in Biology Letters. "There are other UV tolerant species, but this is the only one that has fluorescence as a mechanism to resist deadly UV rays," said British daily The Guardian, Sandeep Eswarappa, who led the work.
The ingredient in a new sunscreen?
The team continued their work by transferring these fluorescent elements to other UV-sensitive tardigrade species, which allowed these animals to survive for fifteen minutes under UV radiation that would otherwise have killed them instantly. Scientists speculate that this species developed fluorescence as a way to withstand the high doses of UV typical of hot summer days in southern India.
At the moment, the team is not sure exactly what makes up this fluorescent shield, "because simple methods to identify the chemicals have not yielded clear results," said New Scientist, who added:
"Once the chemical is known, Sandeep Eswarappa would like to produce large quantities of it to see if it can be used as a sunscreen. "
And the researcher added: "We would like to patent it and study the possibility of mass production."