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Joint expert team uncovers heat shock gene enabling African insect to survive dehydration

March 14, 13:28 UTC+3 MOSCOW

The African mosquito Polypedilum vanderplanki using its special protein, which in the cells of other hosts triggers a mechanism of resistance to stress, dehydrates its body to survive desiccation

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© Artiom Korotaev/TASS

MOSCOW, March 14. /TASS/. The African mosquito Polypedilum vanderplanki using its special protein, which in the cells of other hosts triggers a mechanism of resistance to stress, dehydrates its body to survive desiccation. The results of the study by Russian and Japanese scientists were published in the prominent scientific journal PNAS, the press office of Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology said.

The researchers believe that this phenomenon will be helpful in understanding the mechanism of drying human and animal cells and later bringing them back to life.

The larvae of Polypedilum vanderplanki resemble an ordinary bloodworm that inhabit ephemeral puddles. To survive in such conditions, it goes into anhydrobiosis - a state when the body almost completely dries out - while all physiological and biochemical processes in the body come to a stop. This transition allows the insect to surmount unfavorable conditions. To go into anhydrobiosis, the mosquito larva replaces all the water in its body with disaccharide trehalose. In such a "sugared" or crystallized state, the larva could exist for years, remaining resistant to stress impact, for example, to treatment with liquid nitrogen or acetone.

Up till now, how the genes responsible for the drying of the larva are controlled had remained a mystery. The joint Russian-Japanese research team found the protein, which activates the genes that help the larvae enter into anhydrobiosis. It turns out that a protein, well known to the scientific community, directs this process. This protein is a heat shock transcription activator that in the cells of many other animals initiates the protective response to stress. With this, the African mosquito managed to adapt it for its purposes.

"This is a fascinating example of the plasticity of regulatory systems, in particular of such conserved ones. However, this finding is only the first step in a whole slew of studies. The protein discovered activates about 30% of the genes responsible for drying larva. What is the driving force for activating other genes and rehydration when a larva exits its dormant state, are questions for future research," said Pavel Mazin, the first author of the article.

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