How insects survive the cold: molecular mechanisms—a review

Abstract

Insects vary considerably in their ability to survive low temperatures. The tractability of these organisms to experimentation has lead to considerable physiology-based work investigating both the variability between species and the actual mechanisms themselves. This has highlighted a range of strategies including freeze tolerance, freeze avoidance, protective dehydration and rapid cold hardening, which are often associated with the production of specific chemicals such as antifreezes and polyol cryoprotectants. But we are still far from identifying the critical elements behind over-wintering success and how some species can regularly survive temperatures below −20°C. Molecular biology is the most recent tool to be added to the insect physiologist’s armoury. With the public availability of the genome sequence of model insects such as Drosophila and the production of custom-made molecular resources, such as EST libraries and microarrays, we are now in a position to start dissecting the molecular mechanisms behind some of these well-characterised physiological responses. This review aims to provide a state-of-the-art snapshot of the molecular work currently being conducted into insect cold tolerance and the very interesting preliminary results from such studies, which provide great promise for the future.

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Acknowledgments

This paper was produced within the BAS BIOREACH/BIOFLAME core programmes and also contributes to the SCAR EBA programme. The authors would like to thank Peter Convey for critical reading of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Melody S. Clark.

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Communicated by I.D. Hume.

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Clark, M.S., Worland, M.R. How insects survive the cold: molecular mechanisms—a review. J Comp Physiol B 178, 917–933 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00360-008-0286-4

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Keywords

  • ESTs
  • Microarray
  • Proteomics
  • Stress
  • Cryoprotection