What is the aim of TARDIS?

Why should we send dry aquatic invertebrates into space, an environment that certainly is not normal for these animals? There are many answers to this question. One would be: to see if these animals, as the first ever, are able to cope with the extremely dry conditions of deep vacuum and the harmful solar and galactic radiation up there. In the past, several biologists have suggested that tardigrades may be one of the few animals that have a chance to come back alive after a trip in real space. Finally we will be able to find out if this is true.

At a more mechanistic biological level, exposure of organisms to space conditions will reveal how living cells react to the potentially very stressful impact of space parameters. And organisms that can handle the damaging space parameters will be important sources of knowledge for how to generate the space ecosystems that will be necessary for the more permanent human establishments in space that is envisaged today.

The TARDIS experiment consists of two sets of samples: one set exposed to both space vacuum and solar radiation, and another set exposed to space vacuum only. All tardigrade specimens included in the study are in a dry, anhydrobiotic state. Species included are: Richtersius coronifer, Milnesium tardigradum, Echiniscus testudo, Ramazzottius oberhaeuseri. These are all known to be very tolerant to desiccation.

Once on the ground again, these samples will be analysed for survival and reproductive potential, and for damage on DNA.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Tardigrades at public focus!

Although I knew that many people find tardigrades very interesting I must admit that I did not expect such an interest in the TARDIS project! Information about the TARDIS project has been broadcasted all over the world. And almost every day I get e-mails from journalists and other people interested in knowing more about the project and about tardigrades in general. So it seems that the TARDIS project has really brought this animal group into a public focus. I hope this will also lead to an increased interest in tardigrades from professional biologists. Today, there are probably less than 100 tardigrade researchers in the world.

An important step towards a greater recognition of tardigrades as potential biological model organisms was recently taken by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI, USA), when they decided that the whole genome of a tardigrade (Hypsibius dujardini) should be sequenced within the next few years. Needless to say, this will open up a wide range of possibilities to go deeper into the genetics and physiology of tardigrades, including investigations that may eventually solve the mystery of the extreme tolerances of these animals.

So there is much to look forward to if you are interested in these animals!!

The analyses of the TARDIS samples are still in progress. Please have patience!