A whole new species of tardigrades, one of the strangest creatures found on Earth, has just been discovered. The newly discovered species was found cooling in moss in a Japanese parking lot and has been named Macrobiotus shonaicus.
There are over 1,200 known tardigrade species in the world and these microscopic animals are very hardy. In fact, tardigrades, which have eight legs, a circular mouth, and a chubby body, are believed to be able to survive extremely harsh environments, withstand extreme temperatures, as well as survive intense radiation and vacuum. space.
The new species is 168th known tardigrade species identified in Japan and allegedly discovered by bioscientist Kazuharu Arakawa of Keio University. He grabbed a sample of moss in the parking lot of the apartment building where he was renting an apartment, in the town of Tsuruoka, ScienceAlert reported.
“The most of [the] tardigrade species have been described from mosses and lichens – so any cushion of moss seems to be of interest to people working on tardigrade “, Arakawa told Live Science, adding that “it was quite surprising to find a new species around my apartment!”
A team of researchers from the Jagiellonian University in Poland, led by Daniel Stec, studied the DNA and physical characteristics of the newly discovered species and found four molecular genetic markers that set them apart from all other known species of tardigrades.
The new species has been shown to be able to survive and reproduce in a laboratory environment, which Arakawa says is quite unusual for these microscopic creatures.
“M. shonaicus has two sexes, where other tardigrades which are cultivable in the laboratory have been mostly parthenogenetic (females reproduce by themselves without a male population) ” Arakawa said, ScienceAlert reported“It is therefore an ideal model for studying the machinery of sexual reproduction and the behaviors of tardigrades.”
The new species can reach a length of between 318 micrometers and 743 micrometers and has the typical appearance of a round caterpillar common to tardigrades. Its circular mouth contained three rows of teeth.
Scientists have also found that the new species can live on algae, which makes it even more unusual, since most other tardigrade species are carnivorous, LiveScience reported. However, the two main physical traits that differentiate the new species from other tardigrade species are its eggs and legs.
Macrobiotus shonaicus eggs have a solid surface and a bulge on the inside of its legs, which qualifies it as belonging to the hufelandi group of tardigrades. Researchers also believe that this particular species may have evolved from an ancient genus.
“This is the first report of a new species in this complex from East Asia,” Arakawa told ScienceAlert. “We still need to investigate more widely in Japan and Asia to understand the full diversity of this complex and how these species have adapted to local environments.”
The discovery of the new species is important because it can help scientists better understand how these tiny creatures are able to survive in extremely harsh environments.
“The main fascination is obviously anhydrobiosis. If you’re looking for a definition of “life,” it will likely contain something about reproduction and about making directed biochemical reactions to achieve that goal – essentially, life has a metabolism, ”Arakawa said, ScienceAlert reported. “But the tardigrade can lose all of its body water as the environment dries up, and in this anhydrobiotic state a tardigrade does not perform any biochemistry and has no metabolism. However, they quickly come back to life after rehydration. It challenges the current understanding of life and death. “
The results of the new research have been published in open access PLOS One review.