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Pictured: The LMG Icebreaker ship docked at Palmer Station, Antarctica.

Belgica antarctica: A Tiny Fly With a Big Impact

The official research project is entitled, “Roles for Dehydration and Photoperiodism in Preparing an Antarctic Insect for the Polar Night.” In plain English, Richard E. Lee from Miami University in Ohio and his colleague, David L. Denlinger from Ohio State University, are studying a tough little wingless fly, Belgica antarctica, that survives in extremely harsh polar conditions. As the southernmost free-living insect, this species can survive extreme dehydration to less than 30% of its normal weight (think of a raisin), weeks of immersion in saltwater or freshwater, and extensive freezing within its body. 

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Photo by Richard Lee; Adult, Belgica antarctica

Their research objective is to understand physiological and molecular mechanisms that allow this unique insect to survive extremes of temperature, salinity, oxygen, and daylight. Although research focuses on answering basic scientific questions, understanding these mechanisms may provide clues for medical innovations. For example, currently it is not possible to freeze any human organ forlong-term storage and later transplant. This fly, and some frogs and turtles also studied in Lee’s lab, can naturally survive the freezing of their bodies, including all their organs, for extended periods. By understanding the underpinning mechanisms conferring freeze tolerance, it may be possible to develop protocols for cryopreserving human organs.

For more details about Lee’s research, see Miami University’s The Antarctic Connection.

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