New tardigrade species uncovered in Japan

Avatar By Joseph Scalise | 3 years ago

Researchers have found a brand new species of tardigrade in a parking lot in Japan, the 168th distinct species on record, according to a study in the journal PLOS One.

Tardigrades — also known as “water bears” — are microscopic organisms known for their ability to survive just about any condition. Past studies have noted them making it through extreme cold, extreme heat, and even in the vacuum of space.

The one in the new study is called Macrobiotus shonaicus, and it is important because it marks a never-before-seen tardigrade species. A researcher from Keio University found the critter after scraping some moss off of the parking lot at his apartment building.

“Most of [the] tardigrade species were described from mosses and lichens — thus any cushion of moss seems to be interesting for people working on tardigrades,” study co-author Kazuharu Arakawa, a researcher at Keio University, told Live Science. “It was quite surprising to find a new species around my apartment!”

Not only is M. shonaicus unique in that is has never been recorded, but it also is special because it can both survive and reproduce in laboratory conditions. That means researchers could breed them in order to get a better idea of how tardigrades act and behave.

After collecting the specimen, scientists sequenced the organism’s genome and found it did not match any other tardigrade sequence. The new species measures between 318 micrometers to 743 micrometers long and appears much like any other tardigrade. However, it is able to live on algae, which is odd for animals that are active predators.

The creature also lays eggs that are studded with unique protrusions and capped with noodle-like filaments. While researchers are not sure, they think the features may help the egg attach to where it is laid. The team hopes to continue their research to see if there are new any new undiscovered species they have not yet located.

“This is the first report of a new species in this complex from East Asia,” explained Arakawa. “More tardigrade-hunting is necessary to find out how tardigrades diversified and adapted over time.”