The extreme weather conditions in Antarctica make life there scarce. Besides micro-organisms, most of which are fungi, a hundred plants species and birds there is not much life at the South Pole. However, an insect, Belgica Antarctica, is the only true terrestrial animal found there and scientists sequenced its genome to learn more about the DNA adaptive processes for survival.
There is no lack of animal life in the Antarctic environment but it is marine or aerial, including penguins, seals, blue whales, krill, and so on. But none of the species occurs in an exclusively terrestrial habitat. Apparently, there’s only Belgica Antarctica, a type of non-flying mosquito endemic to this region and which is also the only insect in Antarctica.
Belgica Antarctica insect needs the chilly climate of Antarctica in order to survive
The insect’s larvae die within a week when temperatures sometimes soften to around 10 degrees. Above that level, the heat is also beginning to make it difficult for adults which also die in a matter of hours at 30 degrees.
However, they are not affected by moisture loss and can lose up to seventy percent of their body’s water without taking any risks. Of course, it’s not something they worry about very often.
The insect’s life cycle is two years but most of this period is spent under the ice in the larval stage which consists of four stages and during which it feeds on terrestrial algae, moss, organic detritus, and various microorganisms found in the rocky outcrops where it is located.
A study sequenced the insect’s genome to learn more about the DNA adaptive processed for survival
Scientists discovered that the insect’s genome presents only 99 million nucleotide base pairs (the human genome has 3.2 billion), which is equivalent to about 13,500 genes, similarly to other species of its order.
However, what puzzled the researchers was the fact that Belgica Antarctica presents no junk DNA, the insect’s genetic information being mainly dedicated to genes development. As it does not move too much, the insect doesn’t present well-developed olfactory-related genes but very evolved aquaporins which are responsible for cellular hydration.
The study aims to learn about the evolution of the genome and the DNA adaptive processes for survival.