Arctic springtails cryogenically freeze themselves to survive
25.02.2013 - Flora & Fauna, Arctic
A study published in Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology reveals that insects use hydrogen peroxide (H202) to cope with cold temperatures by dehydrating themselves and freezing themselves cryogenically.
The research, conducted in Svalbard, draws on research conducted as part of EU-funded SLEEPING BEAUTY (Dormancy of cells and organisms-strategies for survival and preservation) project, which ran 2005-2008 under the EU's 6th Framework Programme.
The findings of the study have enormous potential for medical research on organ transplantation and cell, tissue, organ, and even organism preservation.
One of the five model organisms studied in the course of the project was the Arctic springtail (Megaphorura arctica), which uses cryo-protective dehydration to survive low temperatures. Other species of springtail use the techniques of freeze avoidance and freeze tolerance.
At -2°C, the Arctic springtail starts to produce hydrogen peroxide, a household substance commonly used for bleaching and disinfecting. This process leads to slow dehydration, and triggers other biochemical processes. For the organism to survive, it is essential that dehydration happen gradually, so ice crystals cannot form and damage body tissues. In order to prevent this, the Arctic springtail produces its own antifreeze, a sugar called trehalose. In spring, melting ice and snow increase air humidity, which allows springtails to use the moisture to rehydrate and come back to life.
A previous study from 2009, also part of the SLEEPING BEAUTY research project, established that a wide range of genes is responsible for different aspects of the Arctic springtail survival process.