Scientists have discovered the smallest insect genome in Antarctica. A small wingless fly named Antarctic midge has the smallest genome, the researchers said.
The researchers concluded the findings after sequencing the genome. The scientists say living in harsh conditions like that in Antarctica is very tough. But, they believe it may be the tiny genome of the insect that helps in its survival in bone-chilling weather of the cold continent.
According to the researchers, the small insect spends most of its larval stage of two years frozen within the Antarctic ice sheets. After it grows into an adult, it is left with only 10 days for mating and lay eggs after which it dies.
Midge’s genome contains just 99 million base pairs of nucleotides. Comparatively, the winged parasite Strepsiptera has 108 million base pairs and louse has 105 million base pairs.
One of the researchers, David Denlinger, said in a news release, “It has really taken the genome down to the bare bones and stripped it to a smaller size than was previously thought possible.”
“If this is unique to the midge, we don’t know that yet,” Denlinger said.
The researchers found that it possess a host of genes called aquaporins, which are responsible for water transport through the cells. These genes allow these insects to tolerate a loss of up to 70 percent of their water.
Denlinger said, “They look like dried up little raisins, and when we pour water on them they plump up and go on their merry way.”
According to Denlinger, the insect’ survival in such acute level of dehydration is one of the keys to surviving in low temperatures.
“This midge has some mechanism that enables it to both be dehydrated and stay alive, with its cells functioning normally,” the researcher said.
The researchers conclude that the findings reveal some crucial leads about this midge and its genomic code that allows it to thrive within the Antarctic.
The scientists are currently hunting for other Antarctic species that they believe may have similar genome pattern as that of midge.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.
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