Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences

, Volume 66, Issue 8, pp 1404-1418

First online:

The bugs that came in from the cold: molecular adaptations to low temperatures in insects

  • D. DoucetAffiliated withCanadian Forest Service
  • , V. K. WalkerAffiliated withDepartments of Biology, and Microbiology and Immunology, Queen’s University
  • , W. QinAffiliated withBiorefining Research Initiative and Department of Biology, Lakehead University Email author 

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The widespread distribution of insects over many ecological niches is a testimony to their evolutionary success. The colonization of environments at high latitudes or altitudes required the evolution of biochemical strategies that reduced the impact of cold or freezing stress. This review focuses on our current interests in some of the genes and proteins involved in low temperature survival in insects. Although the most widespread form of protection is the synthesis of low molecular weight polyol cryoprotectants, proteins with intrinsic protective properties, such as the thermal hysteresis or antifreeze proteins are also important. These have been cloned and characterized in certain moths and beetles. Molecular techniques allowing the isolation of genes differentially regulated by low temperatures have revealed that heat shock proteins, cold stress proteins, membrane protectants, as well as ice nucleators and other less well characterized proteins likely also play a role in cold hardiness.


Insect cold hardening freeze tolerance freeze avoidance molecular adaptation