Frankenstein’s monster lives! … or at least something very closely related.  A real life approximation of the fabled monster has been taken from the woods of Maine and other locations across the state.

This creature being studied at Unity College can lay parched and dormant for years, only to be brought back to life with a single drop of water.

Tardigrades are tiny organisms that can thrive in some of the most hostile conditions on earth, from the deepest Maine lakes to the vacuum of outer space, and are found across the globe.  They are the clearly the stuff of science fiction novels, which may be one reason why Unity College students are flocking to help Associate Professor of Marine Biology Emma Creaser with her research.  At the environmental college in Unity, Maine, scientific research has become “cool.”

Tardigrades tuck in anywhere. Students can collect them in moss samples using a paper bag for transport. If the paper bag gets forgotten for a couple of weeks, no problem. A little water and they’re back in business. As tiny as they are (.039 of an inch on average) they’re big enough to be seen using a low-power microscope.

Creaser has four students who are working with her on tardigrade research.  She recently held the first regular lab meeting with them to review objectives and research techniques.  Other students have expressed an interest, but space is limited.  That may change in the future if Creaser expands her research and receives additional funding.

“Our students are truly beginning to see the benefit of the experience of research and want to be engaged,” noted Creaser.  “My students are talking to each other about tardigrades when they bump into each other on campus, and they are asking truly relevant questions.  They are beginning to act like scientists.”

Unity students have already discovered a new species — a heady experience for any undergraduate.  But more important, with tardigrades as their subject, Creaser’s students are engaged in fundamental scientific research — looking, measuring, sorting, codifying and discovering. This is the real work that underlies all scientific endeavor.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014