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'Once-in-a generation' Tardigrade Fossil Discovery Reveals New Species in 16-Million-Year-old Amber – Good News Network

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They’ve famously survived the vacuum of space, and even returned to life after being frozen for decades in Antarctic moss. But as hard as it is to kill the bizarre microscopic animal, the tardigrade, it’s harder to find one fossilized. In fact, only two have ever been discovered and formally named—until now.

Lead researchers at New Jersey Institute of Technology and Harvard University have described just the third fossil tardigrade on record—a new genus and species Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus gen. et sp. nov. (Pdo. chronocaribbeus), which is fully preserved in 16-million-year-old Dominican amber from the Miocene.

Measured at just over half a millimeter, the specimen has been identified as a relative of the modern living tardigrade superfamily, Isohypsibioidea, and represents the first tardigrade fossil recovered from the Cenozoic, the current geological era beginning 66 million years ago.

Researchers say the pristine specimen is the best-imaged fossil tardigrade to date— capturing micron-level details of the eight-legged invertebrate’s mouthparts and needle-like claws 20-30 times finer than a human hair. The new fossil is deposited at the American Museum of Natural History Division of Invertebrate of Zoology.

“The discovery of a fossil tardigrade is truly a once-in-a-generation event,” said Phil Barden, senior author of the study and assistant professor of biology at New Jersey Institute of Technology. “What is so remarkable is that tardigrades are a ubiquitous ancient lineage that has seen it all on Earth, from the fall of the dinosaurs to the rise of terrestrial colonization of plants. Yet, they are like a ghost lineage for paleontologists with almost no fossil record. Finding any tardigrade fossil remains is an exciting moment where we can empirically see their progression through Earth history.”

“At first glance, this fossil appears similar to modern tardigrades due to its relatively simple external morphology,” said Marc A. Mapalo, lead author of the study and graduate student at Harvard’s Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. “However, for the first time, we’ve visualized the internal anatomy of the foregut in a tardigrade fossil and found combinations of characters in this specimen that we don’t see in living organisms now. Not only does this allow us to place this tardigrade in a new genus, but we can now explore evolutionary changes this group of organisms experienced over millions of years.”

Tardigrades, or water bears, are renowned for their unusual appearance and self-preservation abilities—certain species are known to survive extreme conditions by curling into a dehydrated ball and entering a state of suspended animation where their metabolism is virtually paused, known as cryptobiosis.

Rare tardigrade fossil finds such as Pdo. chronocaribbeus, the team suggests, could provide new molecular estimates that offer fresh insight into major evolutionary events that have shaped the more than 1,300 species found across the planet today, such as the miniaturization of their body plan into one of Earth’s smallest-known animals with legs.

Perhaps the greatest challenge in unearthing tardigrade fossils, however, is their size.

“It’s a faint speck in amber,” said Barden. “In fact, Pdo. chronocaribbeus was originally an inclusion hidden in the corner of an amber piece with three different ant species that our lab had been studying, and it wasn’t spotted for months.”

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Barden says tardigrades’ microscopic non-biomineralized bodies are also uniquely suited to preservation in amber derived from plant resin, which is capable of safely enveloping and preserving organisms as minute as water bears and even individual bacterium.

“This particular mode of fossilization helps explain the patchy fossil record,” explained Barden. “Fossil amber with arthropods trapped inside is only known from 230 million years ago to the present… that’s less than half of the history of tardigrades.”

Placing the discovery on the Tardigrade Tree

While it is estimated that tardigrades diverged from other panarthropod lineages before the Cambrian 540 million years ago, only two definitive tardigrade fossils have formally been described, both from Cretaceous fossil deposits in North America.

To explore Pdo. chronocaribbeus andits place on the tardigrade ancestral tree, Mapalo used high-powered laser confocal fluorescence microscopy to finely image the specimen. The team then compared it across a range of morphological features associated with major tardigrade groups alive today—including key identifiers such as body surface, claws, buccopharyngeal apparatus, and egg morphology.

MORE: Gigantic 438-Year-old Coral Discovered in the Great Barrier Reef in ‘Excellent Condition’

“The fact that we had to rely on imaging techniques usually reserved for cellular and molecular biology shows how challenging it is to study fossil tardigrades,” said Javier Ortega-Hernandez, assistant professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard. “We hope that this work encourages colleagues to look more closely at their amber samples with similar techniques to better understand these cryptic organisms.”

The team’s analysis places Pdo. chronocaribbeus in one of three core classes of tardigrade, Eutardigadra, and makes it the first definitive fossil member of the superfamily called Isohypsibioidea—a diverse species that today inhabits aquatic and land environments and is typically characterized by their distinct claws that vary in size leg-to-leg.

The finding, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, also puts a minimum age on the Isohypsibioidea family.

“We are just scratching the surface when it comes to understanding living tardigrade communities, especially in places like the Caribbean where they’ve not been surveyed,” said Barden. “This study provides a reminder that, for as little as we may have in the way of tardigrade fossils, we also know very little about the living species on our planet today.”

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Russian crew returns from shooting the first feature film on the ISS – Yahoo Movies Canada

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Shooting for the first feature-length movie in space has wrapped. Space.com reports Russian actress Yulia Pereslid, producer Klim Shipenko and cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy have returned to Earth after the first two spent 12 days filming their movie The Challenge aboard the International Space Station. The three left the ISS in a Soyuz spacecraft at 9:14PM Eastern on October 16th and landed in Kazakhstan just a few hours later, at 12:35AM.

Pereslid and Shipenko arrived on October 5th through an agreement between the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the TV network Channel One and the production studio Yellow, Black and White. Novitskiy had been there since April 9th as part of his regular duties, although he also played a key role — the movie has Pereslid play a surgeon who makes an emergency visit to the ISS to operate on the cosmonaut.

The filming required significant sacrifices for some of the ISS crew. NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov were originally slated to return aboard the Soyuz capsule, but both have had their stays extended by six months to accommodate the film producers. Vande Hei will set a record for the longest spaceflight by a US astronaut as a result, spending exactly one year in orbit. Pereslid also broke ground as the first professional actor to visit space, beating William Shatner by roughly a week.

It will be a while before The Challenge is ready to watch, and it’s safe to say the production is aimed primarily at a Russian audience. It’s a major milestone for private uses of space, though, and hints at a future when Tom Cruise and other stars are frequently blasting off to produce shows in orbit.

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Russian actor, director arrive back on earth from ISS – Euronews

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A Soyuz space capsule carrying a cosmonaut and two Russian filmmakers has returned to Earth after leaving the International Space Station (ISS) earlier on Sunday.

The capsule landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan carrying Russian actor Yulia Peresild and film director Klim Shipenko, who returned to Earth after filming scenes for the world’s first movie in orbit – a project the Kremlin said would help burnish the nation’s space glory.

Peresild and Shipenko rocketed into orbit in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on October 5 for a 12-day stint on the station to film segments of the movie titled “Challenge,” in which a surgeon played by Peresild rushes to the space station to save a crew member who needs an urgent operation in orbit.

The pair returned to Earth on Sunday with another Russian cosmonaut, Oleg Novitskiy, who also stars as the ailing cosmonaut in the movie.

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VIDEO: NASA’s asteroid hunter Lucy soars into sky with diamonds – Abbotsford News

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A NASA spacecraft named Lucy rocketed into the sky with diamonds Saturday morning on a 12-year quest to explore eight asteroids.

Seven of the mysterious space rocks are among swarms of asteroids sharing Jupiter’s orbit, thought to be the pristine leftovers of planetary formation.

An Atlas V rocket blasted off before dawn, sending Lucy on a roundabout journey spanning nearly 4 billion miles (6.3 billion kilometers). Researchers grew emotional describing the successful launch — lead scientist Hal Levison said it was like witnessing the birth of a child. “Go Lucy!” he urged.

Lucy is named after the 3.2 million-year-old skeletal remains of a human ancestor found in Ethiopia nearly a half-century ago. That discovery got its name from the 1967 Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” prompting NASA to send the spacecraft soaring with band members’ lyrics and other luminaries’ words of wisdom imprinted on a plaque. The spacecraft also carried a disc made of lab-grown diamonds for one of its science instruments.

In a prerecorded video for NASA, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr paid tribute to his late colleague John Lennon, credited for writing the song that inspired all this.

“I’m so excited — Lucy is going back in the sky with diamonds. Johnny will love that,” Starr said. “Anyway, if you meet anyone up there, Lucy, give them peace and love from me.”

The paleoanthropologist behind the fossil Lucy discovery, Donald Johanson, had goose bumps watching Lucy soar — “I will never look at Jupiter the same … absolutely mind-expanding.” He said he was filled with wonder about this “intersection of our past, our present and our future.”

“That a human ancestor who lived so long ago stimulated a mission which promises to add valuable information about the formation of our solar system is incredibly exciting,” said Johanson, of Arizona State University, who traveled to Cape Canaveral for his first rocket launch.

Lucy’s $981 million mission is the first to aim for Jupiter’s so-called Trojan entourage: thousands — if not millions — of asteroids that share the gas giant’s expansive orbit around the sun. Some of the Trojan asteroids precede Jupiter in its orbit, while others trail it.

Despite their orbits, the Trojans are far from the planet and mostly scattered far from each other. So there’s essentially zero chance of Lucy getting clobbered by one as it swoops past its targets, said Levison of Southwest Research Institute, the mission’s principal scientist.

Lucy will swing past Earth next October and again in 2024 to get enough gravitational oomph to make it all the way out to Jupiter’s orbit. On the way there, the spacecraft will zip past asteroid Donaldjohanson between Mars and Jupiter. The aptly named rock will serve as a 2025 warm-up act for the science instruments.

Drawing power from two huge circular solar wings, Lucy will chase down five asteroids in the leading pack of Trojans in the late 2020s. The spacecraft will then zoom back toward Earth for another gravity assist in 2030. That will send Lucy back out to the trailing Trojan cluster, where it will zip past the final two targets in 2033 for a record-setting eight asteroids visited in a single mission.

It’s a complicated, circuitous path that had NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, shaking his head at first. “You’ve got to be kidding. This is possible?” he recalled asking.

Lucy will pass within 600 miles (965 kilometers) of each target; the biggest one is about 70 miles (113 kilometers) across.

“Are there mountains? Valleys? Pits? Mesas? Who knows? I’m sure we’re going to be surprised,” said Johns Hopkins University’s Hal Weaver, who’s in charge of Lucy’s black-and-white camera. “But we can hardly wait to see what … images will reveal about these fossils from the formation of the solar system.”

NASA plans to launch another mission next month to test whether humans might be able to alter an asteroid’s orbit — practice in case Earth ever has a killer rock headed this way.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press


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