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article imageThe incredible life of the African midge

By Tim Sandle     Sep 17, 2014 in Science
Biologists have completed the genetic analysis on the African midge. The remarkable insect can survive a variety of extreme conditions. The basis of this “invulnerability” is the insect’s genes.
The midge, Polypedilum vanderplanki, is capable of a biological function called anhydrobiosis. This is a highly specialized state that allows an organism to survive even after losing almost all of its body water. Such creatures can also survive other extreme conditions such as extreme temperatures ranging from 90°C to -270°C, vacuums and high doses of radiation. These conditions would be deadly to any other life form.
The midge is found in northern Nigeria and Uganda. The midge lives in an environment where the dry season lasts for at least six months and droughts can last up to eight months. Under these conditions, the larvae's body desiccates to as low as three percent water content by weight. In the dehydrated state the larvae become impervious to many extreme environmental conditions, and can survive for years until they are rehydrated.
The basis of the anhydrobiotic properties are the midge’s gene clusters. The new study has shown that these are Anhydrobiotic Related gene Islands (ARId's) with special properties. Researchers have established that the DNA in the midge is damaged by extreme environments like any other creature. However, the midge has a unique property that allows it to make repairs to its damaged DNA.
The researchers are hoping to use the genes to make a special substance to allow biological specimens to be safely stored and transported around the globe.
The investigation into the midges has been published in the journal Nature Communications. The paper is headed “Comparative genome sequencing reveals genomic signature of extreme desiccation tolerance in the anhydrobiotic midge.”
More about Midges, Insects, Fleas, Africa
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