News / Science & Technology

Scientists Sequence Smallest Genome Ever With Antarctic Fly

Belgica antarctica adults mating: larger female on left and male on right. (Credit: Richard E. Lee, Jr.)
Belgica antarctica adults mating: larger female on left and male on right. (Credit: Richard E. Lee, Jr.)
Rosanne Skirble

Scientists have just sequenced the genome of a fly native to Antarctica, the coldest, driest and windiest place on the planet, a finding that may lead to a wider understanding of how these bugs evolved to cope with the environment.

The fly, named Belgica antarctica, is a survivor, or as Washington State University evolutionary biologist Joanna Kelley likes to put it…an extremophile.

“This fly has to withstand freezing, extreme temperature changes so in the Antarctic summer it’s on the rocks and those are getting quite hot," Kelley said. "But imagine the Antarctic winter, it’s very dark and cold. There’s a lot of UV [ultraviolet] radiation. There’s dehydration.  And anything you can imagine as an extreme pressure, this fly probably encounters it.”    

Common fly

The fly is a midge, a group of small flies found practically everywhere on earth. 

This midge has evolved to survive in the extreme environment of the rocky outcrops of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Larvae of the midge Belgica antarctica (Credit: Richard E. Lee, Jr.)Larvae of the midge Belgica antarctica (Credit: Richard E. Lee, Jr.)
x
Larvae of the midge Belgica antarctica (Credit: Richard E. Lee, Jr.)
Larvae of the midge Belgica antarctica (Credit: Richard E. Lee, Jr.)

It is wingless, so it can't be swept up by the wind and blown into the sea. It can also tolerate 40 percent or more water loss in its cells, more than double that of other midges.  

Kelley says the fly spends two years as larvae over two cold seasons.

“They look like dried up little raisins and that’s how they survive the winter," she said. "They are not developmentally active during that time, but they are still alive. This begs the question of, 'Does the small genome somehow enable them to go through that process, or the growing process in the summer more rapidly, or facilitate that somehow?'”  

Smallest bug sequenced

Belgica antarctica is the first polar insect and the first freeze-tolerant insect whose genome - or genetic material - has been sequenced. 

It is also the smallest bug sequenced to date. Its genome has 99 million base pairs, the DNA building blocks of an organism. That's tiny compared with the human genome which has 3.2 billion base pairs.  

Scientists Sequence Smallest Genome Ever with Antarctic Fly
Scientists Explore How Antarctic Fly Evolved to Cope with Coldi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

Kelley says the genome gives researchers a framework to study the organism in much more depth. For example, she says, they can look for what triggers its genes to activate a protein in response to heat or cold stress.

Wingless adult male of the midge Belgica antarctica (Credit: Richard E. Lee, Jr.)Wingless adult male of the midge Belgica antarctica (Credit: Richard E. Lee, Jr.)
x
Wingless adult male of the midge Belgica antarctica (Credit: Richard E. Lee, Jr.)
Wingless adult male of the midge Belgica antarctica (Credit: Richard E. Lee, Jr.)

“The heat shock proteins are important in this fly, particularly because they are expressed all the time," she said. "In other organisms, heat shock proteins, which are turned on in response to temperature or other stresses, in the fly they are turned on all the time. And this process may give us insight into how the fly is able to survive over the winter.”

Possible medical advances

Kelley says understanding how the freeze tolerant mechanism works in a bug could lead to developments outside the insect world. 

The most direct human application, she says, might be in cryo-preservation or the freezing of human cells or tissues for medical purposes.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs