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

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Arkansas, North Carolina have approved similar laws that gay-marriage opponents say help maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals 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.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More