A new species of worm, which can survive 500 times the dose of arsenic taken to kill a human, has been discovered. The worm, which keeps its young in a pouch, similar to a kangaroo, has three different sexes.
CNN reported that researchers think humans might have something to learn from the worm's resilience.
Caltech researchers discovered eight species of worms that live in the arsenic-rich Mono lake in California. The team published its findings in the journal Current Biology.
Mono Lake is three times saltier than the Pacific Ocean. In fact, it is so salty, researchers said, that only two other species were ever known to live in it: brine shrimp and diving flies.
This is before they discovered this new species of worm.
CNN further reported that all the eight of the worms are unique — some are predators, some are parasites. Others nosh on microbes in the lake. However, they're all extremophiles. Extremophiles are organisms that thrive in severe conditions that most species couldn't survive in.
The California lake is just one of several extreme locales where researchers have spotted nematodes, the phylum all eight worm species belong to. They survive in the bottom of the ocean, the Antarctic tundra and even under the Earth's surface.
The researchers posited that nematodes might be genetically predisposed to thrive in extreme conditions. It would be a breakthrough in human health to learn more about the factors that keep them alive in harsh environments.
Arsenic, a toxin that occurs naturally in the Earth's crust, seeps into water sources worldwide and can poison those who drink it when levels are high. So understanding the biology behind these steely worms could help researchers understand how toxins affect the human body, co-author James Siho Lee said in a statement.
"The next innovation for biotechnology could be out there in the wild," CNN quoted him say. "We have to protect and responsibly utilize wildlife."