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British and Serbian scientists look into freezing genes

24.07.2009

Novi Sad/London - EU-funded researchers have identified the genes that allow insects called Arctic springtails to survive temperatures as low as -14°C. 'This is the first in-depth molecular study on the underlying cold survival mechanisms in this species,' commented Melody Clark of the British Antarctic Survey, the lead author of the article. 'Such information is not only of interest to ecologists, but also to the medical field of cryobiology.'
Many species of springtail can survive low temperatures; most achieve this by using the 'freeze avoidance' technique, and some use freeze tolerance. However, the Arctic springtail, Megaphorura arctica, uses a third, rarer technique known as cryoprotective dehydration. As temperatures fall, these tiny creatures dehydrate themselves, taking on the appearance of shrivelled husks in the process. When the weather becomes more clement, the insects rehydrate themselves and resume their normal activities.
The study, published in the journal BMC Genomics (Vol. 10, 2009) was supported in part by the SLEEPING BEAUTY ('Dormancy of cells and organisms-strategies for survival and preservation') project, which is funded under the 'New and Emerging Science and Technology' (NEST) activity area of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).
In this study, researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Novi Sad in Serbia teamed up to identify the genes controlling the processes of dehydration and rehydration. Their analyses revealed that a wide range of genes become active as temperatures fall, including genes controlling the production of a natural antifreeze called trehalose as well as genes involved in tissue and cell remodelling.
When temperatures rise and the springtail recovers, genes involved in energy production, tissue repair and cell division are activated. The findings could have important implications for those working on techniques for preserving cells and tissues at low temperatures for long periods, for example in biobanks.
According to Europe's biobanking project BBMRI (Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure), there are currently 300,000+ samples of whole blood, 1.7m of serum, 1.1m of plasma, 8m of FFPE tissue, and 0.5m cryo-conserved samples stored in the 300 EU biobanks.

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