Antarctica looks like it is out of this world. That is why many experiments focused on assessing the possibility of discovering alien life take place in the icy environment. Because of the extreme conditions, there are just a few endemic species surviving on land. Most of the continents’ fauna lives in the neighboring oceans. There is one insect that can only be found on the icy continent and it has the smallest recorded genome in the world of insects.
The Antarctic midge, scientifically named Belgica Antarctica, is a 0.23 inches (6 mm) insect. We are looking at the largest terrestrial animal from Antarctica. Some ticks and mites, which are clearly smaller, live on the continent as well.
The insect fascinates scientists with its survival skills. The Antarctic midge spends two winters in larval form only to live as adults for up to 10 days.
Washington State University genomics researcher Joanna Kelley analyzed the animal and discovered that the Antarctic midge possesses the smallest insect genome. It has only 99 million base pairs of nucleotides. The insect which was thought to hold the tinniest genome sequence so far is the body louse, with 105 million base pairs. The human genome holds 3.2 billion genome pairs.
The bread wheat genome, which was thought to be impossible to sequence, because of its complexity, has been deciphered by scientists as well recently.
Smallest recorded genome helps the Antarctic Midge survive the extreme environment
“We suspect that it’s somehow an adaptation to the extreme environment,” says Kelley. “And it opens up a lot of interesting hypotheses to hopefully test by sequencing additional Antarctic organisms or sub-Antarctic organisms, because there are other flies, or Diptera, on some of the sub-Antarctic islands. We’re really interested to see whether or not they have similar genomes.”, LiveScience reports.
The insect is not equipped with wings and just a few smell receptors. Most of the midge’s 13.500 genes are focused on development, as the animal spends most of its life in larval form. The insect is so resistant that it can survive even if 70 percent of its body water is dried out. They are able to achieve the performance due to their numerous aquaporins. This genes take care of the cells’ water transfer. Moreover, the Antarctic midge can survive extreme temperature fluctuations and exposure to ultraviolet light, because the smallest recorded genome adapted to the environment.
The research results were published in Nature Communications journal on August 12.