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Find out the fascinating secret to how bugs escape the cold

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Daksha Rangan
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, January 6, 2016, 9:55 AM - The chilly impact of Canadian winters isn’t limited to humans and mammals.

Each year, insects, too, need to take a break to escape the often harsh weather conditions of the season.

For little critters, their flight comes down to survival. Many don’t live through harsh cold spells, while others manage to seek shelter (often in your home, if given the opportunity), or fly south.

But there is a decent population of bugs that last through the winter without hiding or fleeing south.

Every year, many bugs freeze through the winter and come back to life in the spring. Their secret is quite fascinating, and researchers are working to uncover how insects do it, and what humans can learn.

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Brent Sinclair, associate professor at The University of Western Ontario’s department of biology, has been studying insects for 20 years.

Sinclair and his team of researchers have been trying to discover how bugs survive being frozen, noting that even certain tropical bugs and survive the cold, CBC reports.

”Our own cells are made mostly of water, and they burst and die when frozen,” CBC notes. Sinclair and his colleagues are in search of the biological component that allows insects to freeze.

The scientists have learned that anti-freeze proteins and the biology of insects is the key to their survival. In the body some insects, there’s a large cavity containing blood. When temperatures dip near freezing, ice forms in the blood, absorbing water out of everything, essentially dehydrating the bug, CBC reports.

”The cells are drying out effectively. So what the insect has done, is that it’s turned a freezing problem into a dehydration problem, Sinclair says.

As temperatures increase again and water melts, the insect is rehydrated and returns to life.

Though solid results are still far in the future, Sinclair is optimistic.

”[E]ven if we can’t figure out precisely what it is about freezing the insect, [this] allows us to understand freeze tolerance,” Sinclair tells the CBC. “[W]e can also learn about what those cells do to work in the cold and to recover from the cold, and maybe apply some of that.

Sinclair tells the CBC that the objective of his research isn’t about freezing humans. Rather, he hopes to uncover more about organ storage for donation, and ways humans can better handle the cold.

SOURCE: CBC | University of Western Ontario

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