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EL ESPECTADOR

Meet The Tardigrade, Maxi Resistant Mini Species With Medical Potential

Scientists from the University of Magdalena in Colombia discovered six new species of tardigrades, microscopic 'water bears' that are remarkably resistant to extreme conditions and may help medical researchers.

A tardigrade,  or 'water bear'
A tardigrade, or 'water bear'
Edgar Salas Ballesteros

BOGOTÁ — Researchers in Colombia have discovered six new species of tardigrades — also known as "water bears' — a phylum of microorganisms considered the planet's most resilient for their physical and anatomical qualities.

The team, headed by Sigmer Quiroga Cárdenas of the University of Magdalena, believes the mechanisms tardigrades use to keep their cellular structure and DNA intact, in a dry state, are key to creating new conservation methods — for human organs, for example.

The six species are from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a mountainous area in northern Colombia. "Moss and lichen specimens were collected where the tardigrades were found," Quiroga adds. "The goal is to make micro-preparations for analysis by the experts and students in the MIKU," as the research group is known.

water_bear

Tardigrade under a microscope — Photo: Peter von Bagh

The group named the new "water bear" species Bryodelphax kristenseni, Doryphoribius rosanae, Itaquascon pilatoi, Milnesium kogui, Minibiotus pentannulatus and Paramacrobiotus sagani.

Quiroga says the discovery will allow for further research, starting in Colombia, on the unique tolerance mechanisms of tardigrades. The new specimens are now part of the University of Magdalena's Center for Biological Collections, the country's largest such collection with some 7,000 tardigrades overall.

The remarkable resilience of "water bears' is of particular interest in fields such as drug-making, medicine and food engineering, Quiroga explains. "These aquatic organisms have the ability, when water is scarce, to enter a state of anhydrobiosis wherein they can resist highly extreme conditions of temperature, or radiation levels that would be lethal to other organisms," he says.

Recognized as the planet's most "indestructible" animals, the eight-legged tardigrades (meaning "slow steppers') can be as large as one or two millimeters and, as their name suggests, move at a snail's pace. In Colombia, MIKU researchers have been pioneers over the past decade in the study of tardigrades, and have done much to raise awareness about the importance of miniscule creatures not only to ecosystems, but as models illustrating tolerance mechanisms in extreme conditions.

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Geopolitics

Smaller Allies Matter: Afghanistan Offers Hard Lessons For Ukraine's Future

Despite controversies at home, Nordic countries were heavily involved in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan. As the Ukraine war grinds on, lessons from that conflict are more relevant than ever.

Photo of Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Johannes Jauhiainen

-Analysis-

HELSINKI — In May 2021, the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan after 20 years of international presence, astronomical sums of development aid and casualties on all warring sides.

As Kabul fell, a chaotic evacuation prompted comparisons to the fall of Saigon — and most of the attention was on the U.S., which had led the original war to unseat the Taliban after 9/11 and remained by far the largest foreign force on the ground. Yet, the fall of Kabul was also a tumultuous and troubling experience for a number of other smaller foreign countries who had been presented for years in Afghanistan.

In an interview at the time, Antti Kaikkonen, the Finnish Minister of Defense, tried to explain what went wrong during the evacuation.

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“Originally we anticipated that the smaller countries would withdraw before the Americans. Then it became clear that getting people to the airport had become more difficult," Kaikkonen said. "So we decided last night to bring home our last soldiers who were helping with the evacuation.”

During the 20-year-long Afghan war, the foreign troop presence included many countries:Finland committed around 2,500 soldiers,Sweden 8,000,Denmark 12,000 and Norway 9,000. And in the nearly two years since the end of the war, Finland,Belgium and theNetherlands have commissioned investigations into their engagements in Afghanistan.

As the number of fragile or failed states around the world increases, it’s important to understand how to best organize international development aid and the security of such countries. Twenty years of international engagement in Afghanistan offers valuable lessons.

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