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Conan the Bacterium

A global nuclear war--heaven forbid--would end the life of most everything on the planet. But this organism would live on.

Conan the Bacterium. That’s the playful name given by biologists to an organism whose official moniker is “Deinococcus radiodurans.” D. radiodurans is microscopic, but that doesn’t mean it’s a pushover. It can take heat, cold, long periods of desiccation. In fact, D. radiodurans is so tough that you can’t even kill it with intense radiation–almost a sure-kill treatment for living things.

Let’s use ourselves as an example. Very high-energy photons are called “gamma rays,” and they are measured in rads. Moderate energy photons, such as those coming from the sun and landing on you right now, aren’t too dangerous. Gamma rays, however, are another matter. About one thousand rads of gamma rays will kill a person.

Would a thousand rads kill Conan the Bacterium? No. D. radiodurans shrugs it off. Two thousand rads? Ten thousand rads? Researches have found that D. radiodurans even survives a blistering assault of one point five million rads–radiation so intense it literally breaks apart DNA. Within a couple hours, D. radiodurans calmly stitches its genome back together again, no worse for wear.

Indeed, a global nuclear war — heaven forbid — would end the life of most everything on the planet. But biologists speculate Conan the Bacterium would still be around afterward. Let’s hope no one ever runs that particular test.

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