Saturday, 20 April 2013

Gooey Suits Help Teensy Critters Survive Space Conditions

Charles Choi, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 15 April 2013 Time: 03:00 PM ET

A suit a thousand times thinner than a human hair or more can help microscopic animals survive a harsh vacuum, such as would be the case in outer space, researchers say.

These newly developed "nano-suits" could help biologists investigate creatures in exquisite detail in a vacuum that would normally kill the animals. The discovery might even suggest alien life could survive journeys through space, researchers speculated.

Moreover, the scientists note the level of vacuum they experimented with is nearly the same level of vacuum experienced by the International Space Station. "We want to send animals wearing nano-suits to space," biologist Takahiko Hariyama at the Hamamatsu University School of Medicine in Japan told LiveScience. 
When zapped with plasma radiation, tiny critters
 like a fruit fly larva (A-C), larval mosquitoes 
(F-H and K-M) develop a gooey nano-suit that 
seems to protecte them that seals their bodies
 from the harsh vacuum conditions.

CREDIT: T. Hariyama et al., PNAS. 

Scientists would like to analyze live organisms with scanning electron microscopes, devices that can yield images with better than 1 nanometer, or billionth of a meter of detail. However, the electron beams these microscopes use to scan objects need to work in a vacuum, which is hostile to most life, rapidly causing dehydration and death as vital bodily fluids and gases leak out.

Hariyama and his colleagues were curious how long animals might live while analyzed with scanning electron microscopes. The researchers hoped they might have enough time to make valuable discoveries about the fine details of how these creatures behaved before they succumbed to a vacuum.

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