Japanese scientists have successfully awakened a microscopic tardigrade (more colloquially known as a waterbear) after it spent three decades in a subzero slumber, the Telegraph reports.
The microscopic and oddly cute creature, otherwise known as a tardigrade, was collected in Antarctica in 1983 and had been kept frozen by researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Polar Research, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The tardigrades are less than one millimetre in length, and are capable of surviving in extremely hostile environments, including low and high temperatures, pressure, and radiation.
They are able slow or shut down their metabolism under harsh conditions, in a process known as cryptobiosis.
According to Gizmodo, scientists stored the organisms at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 20 degrees Celsius, and started the thawing process in March 2014.
Slowly but surely, two of the three specimens have been doing the extremophile version of yawning and stretching back to life. Scientists have been tracking their progress, which is recorded on ScienceDirect’s website — it reads like observations of an adult human trying to get out of bed on a Monday morning.
On the first day after rehydration, the surviving tardigrade, affectionately called SB-1, was observed “moving the fourth legs,” and by the sixth day it was “struggling to lift itself.”
It was two weeks before the organism began to fully return to its normal functions — moving and eating — but still scientists are marveling at the findings for a number of reasons. Gizmodo reported that prior to this study, the longest a tardigrade has been able to withstand freezing was nine years, which means these tardigrades set a new world record by 11 years. And, in addition to surviving, some tardigrades have been able to produce healthy offspring. “The first oviposition was recorded on day 23,” the study read. “SB-1 deposited a total of 19 eggs in five separate oviposition events by day 45.” Once the egg hatched, it deposited its own eggs in just eight days.