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article imageTicks wander into airless high-radiation; act like it's a picnic

By David Brydon     Apr 6, 2012 in Science
Kanazawa - Japanese researchers have discovered that ticks can survive the extreme radiation and airless vacuum inside an electron scanning microscope, making them the first animal to ever be viewed moving and alive in such conditions.
Being inside of a scanning electron microscope is an extremely hostile environment. Emitting beams of strong radiation in an airless vacuum, it's been a given that anything destined to enter the microscope won't ever be coming out alive. They're meant to view dead material at remarkably high magnifications, and that's it.
However, that wasn't the case for ticks at Kanazawa Medical University, in Uchinada, Japan, when they unknowingly crawled carefree through desiccator tubes in the environment, where anything else would have met its demise.
Water bears (tardigrades), the previous title-holder for toughest bug, were able to survive the high radiation as well, and even the vacuum of space, but only after being dehydrated into a nigh-mummified state of hibernation. Ticks, on the other hand, need no such treatment.
The ticks weren't invincible though, unfortunately. The beams of strong radiation do damage them, as does a prolonged vacuum, just not enough to kill them initially as they survived after 30 minutes of exposure.
As stated in the research journal of the findings:
"Different from tardigrades, H. flava in our experiments were hydrated and mobile. Then, the ticks keep their water inside of their body and condition is different from tardigrades in space. The ticks in the present study have a pair of spiracular plates, and they breathe through the stigma in them. Therefore, vacuum conditions may cause severe respiratory system damage and death. Actually, some anti-tick agents are emulsifying agents containing fatty acids such as sorbitan esters of fatty acids, which can seal the stigma. This implies that ticks can be choked to death"
So not entirely indestructible, after all. Implying that ticks can be choked to death is an especially good sentiment given that ticks can be deadly, too.
The tick's natural resilience to being battered with radiation and exposure to vacuums also has implications of how life could live on other planets under similar conditions, and broadens understanding of what organisms can and cannot survive. Just keep in mind on that next camping trip that keeping your socks tucked in will be a better defence against them than a high-powered radiation beam.
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