In the summer of 2016 and 2017, researchers visited Mono Lake in California to get soil samples from dry patches around the body of water. Aside from diving flies, brine shrimp, bacteria, and algae, there wasn't much to be expected of the lake. This is because it contains super salty, arsenic-laced water with very few signs of life. However, they discovered something else – microscopic worms.
|Photo Credit: Ron Reiring via Flickr|
These microscopic worms are no ordinary ones because they can survive 500 times more arsenic exposure than a human can. A study published in the journal Current Biology reported that the researchers discovered eight worm species that thrive in the extreme ecosystem. All of them have a variety of mouth shapes which allow them to munch on their preferred diet. The creatures also display three distinct sexes and carry developing offspring inside their bodies. According to the authors, this might be the result of the animal's fascinating arsenic tolerance.
|Photo Credit: Live Science|
Live Science, a science news website that features groundbreaking developments in science, space, technology, health, the environment, our culture, and history, reported that the microscopic worms are considered the most abundant animals on the planet. Lucy Stewart, a microbiologist at GNS Science in New Zealand who did not participate in the study, said, "Mono Lake is famous for being a limited ecosystem in terms of animals ... so it's really cool that they've managed to demonstrate that there are a bunch of nematode species living there, as well as the shrimp and the flies. It expands the whole ecosystem considerably.”
|Photo Credit: CNN|
According to the researchers, the worms’ genetic code has a mutation in a gene called dbt-1. This helps in breaking down the amino acids that make up proteins. They also appear to be best suited for their particularly toxic environment. Pei-Yin Shih, study co-author and a graduate student at Caltech, stated that they still have much to learn about these 1,000-celled animals and how they mastered survival in extreme environments.