Thursday, January 21, 2010

547)No. 8, Ayats(Signs) In The Universe Series: Insects Selfprotect From Freezing By Making Their Own Antifreeze; Quotes From Blogpost Four Hundred.


When Built-In Antifreeze Beats a Winter Coat


In the bleak midwinter

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter

Long ago.

— Christina Rossetti (1872)

As the mercury plunges to its annual lows, those of us at higher latitudes retreat to cozy shelters. We might sympathize with the birds and the squirrels that endure the subfreezing cold outside and fill some feeders, but we don’t give any thought to smaller, less appealing creatures — the insects and spiders, for instance, that inhabited the backyard or woods in the summer.

They will re-emerge in the spring, so somehow they must make it through the bitter cold. How do these animals survive the deep freeze without the benefit of fur or feathers?

The threat to life at low temperatures is not really cold, but ice. With cells and bodies composed mostly of water, ice is potentially lethal because its formation disrupts the balance between the fluids outside and inside of cells, which leads to their shrinkage and irreversible damage to tissues.

Insects have therefore evolved all sorts of ways to avoid freezing. One strategy is to escape winter altogether. Butterflies like the monarch migrate south. A great solution, but this is a relatively rare capability. Most insects remain in their local habitat and must find some other way to avoid freezing. They evade the ice by crawling into holes or burrows below the snow cover and frost line, or, as some insect larvae do, by overwintering on the bottoms of lakes and ponds that do not completely freeze.

But many insects, and other animals, defend themselves against direct exposure to subfreezing temperatures through biochemical ingenuity, by producing antifreeze. In a previous column, I explained how different animal species defend themselves against predators with the same molecule acquired from their environment. By contrast, the story of defense against the cold is one of widespread and diverse innovations.

The first animal antifreezes were identified several decades ago in the blood plasma of Antarctic fish by Arthur DeVries, now at the University of Illinois, and his colleagues. The ocean around Antarctica is very cold, about 29 degrees Fahrenheit. It is salty enough to stay liquid several degrees below the freezing temperature of fresh water. The abundant ice particles floating in these waters are a hazard to fish because, if ingested, they can initiate ice formation in the gut and then — bang, you have frozen fish sticks. Unless something prevents the ice crystals from growing.

That is what the fish antifreeze proteins do. The tissues and bloodstream of about 120 species of fish belonging to the Notothenioidei family are full of antifreeze. These proteins have an unusual repeating structure that allows them to bind to ice crystals and to lower the minimum temperature at which the crystals can grow to about 28 degrees. That is just a bit below the minimum temperature of the Southern Ocean and about two full degrees lower than the freezing point of fish plasma that does not have antifreeze. This small margin of protection has had profound consequences. Antifreeze-bearing fish now dominate Antarctic waters.

The ability to survive and thrive in frigid water is impressive, but insects must survive much colder temperatures on land.

Some, like the snow flea, are active even in winter and can be found hopping about on snow banks when the temperature is as low as 20 degrees. These bugs are not reallyfleas, but springtails, a primitive wingless insect that can leap long distances using its tail. Laurie Graham and Peter Davies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario,isolated antifreeze proteins from snow fleas and discovered that they also had a simple repeating structure that bound to ice and prevented crystal growth.

The snow flea antifreeze proteins have an entirely different composition from those of antifreezes that have been isolated from other insects, like the fire colored beetle, which has antifreeze proteins that are in turn different from those of the spruce budworm caterpillar. And all of these insect antifreezes are distinct from the kind that keeps Antarctic fish alive. Each animal’s antifreeze is a separate evolutionary invention.

But insect innovation goes beyond antifreeze. Biologists have discovered another strategy for coping with extreme cold: some bugs just tolerate freezing.

In the most northern climates, like the interior of Alaska, midwinter temperatures fall as low as minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and snow cover and subzero temperatures can last until May. At these extreme temperatures, most insects are bugsicles. The Alaskan Upis beetle, for example, freezes at around minus 19 degrees. But, remarkably, it can survive exposure to temperatures as low as about minus 100 degrees.

To tolerate freezing, it is crucial that insects minimize the damage that freezing (and thawing) would normally cause.

Insects have evolved a variety of cryoprotective substances. As winter approaches, many freeze-tolerant insects produce high concentrations of glycerol and other kinds of alcohol molecules. These substances don’t prevent freezing, but they slow ice formation and allow the fluids surrounding cells to freeze in a more controlled manner while the contents of the cells remain unfrozen.

For maximum protection, some Arctic insects use a combination of such cryoprotectants and antifreezes to control ice formation, to protect cells and to prevent refreezing as they thaw. Indeed, a new kind of antifreezewas recently discovered in the Upis beetle by a team of researchers from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Unlike the protein antifreezes of other beetles, snow fleas and moths, the Upis antifreeze is a complex sugar called xylomannan that is as effective at suppressing ice growth as the most active insect protein antifreezes.

The necessity of avoiding freezing has truly been the mother of a great number of evolutionary inventions. This new finding raises the likelihood that there are more chemical tricks to discover about how insects cope with extreme cold.

This is not merely a matter of esoteric Arctic entomology.

A long-standing challenge in human organ preservation has been precisely the problem that these insects have solved — how tissues can be frozen for a long time and then thawed out successfully. Research teams are now exploring how to apply insights from the animal world to the operating room.

Sean B. Carroll, a molecular biologist and geneticist, is the author of “Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species.”

"Education has been important to my family for a long time. My forefathers founded al-Azhar University in Cairo some 1000 years ago, at the time of the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt. Discovery of knowledge was seen by those founders as an embodiment of religious faith, and faith as reinforced by knowledge of workings of the Creator's physical world. The form of universities has changed over those 1000 years, but that reciprocity between faith and knowledge remains a source of strength"(Aga Khan IV, 27th May1994, Cambridge, Massachusets, U.S.A.)

"......The Quran tells us that signs of Allah’s Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation - in the heavens and the earth, the night and the day, the clouds and the seas, the winds and the waters...."(Aga Khan IV, Kampala, Uganda, August 22 2007)

"In sum the process of creation can be said to take place at several levels. Ibda represents the initial level - one transcends history, the other creates it. The spiritual and material realms are not dichotomous, since in the Ismaili formulation, matter and spirit are united under a higher genus and each realm possesses its own hierarchy. Though they require linguistic and rational categories for definition, they represent elements of a whole, and a true understanding of God must also take account of His creation. Such a synthesis is crucial to how the human intellect eventually relates to creation and how it ultimately becomes the instrument for penetrating through history the mystery of the unknowable God implied in the formulation of tawhid."(Azim Nanji, Director, Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, U.K., 1998)

"The Holy Qu'ran's encouragement to study nature and the physical world around us gave the original impetus to scientific enquiry among Muslims(Aga Khan IV, Aga Khan University Inauguration Speech, Karachi, Pakistan, November 11th 1985)

"O brother! You asked: What is the [meaning of] `alam [world] and what is that entity to which this name applies? How should we describe the world in its entirety? And how many worlds are there? Explain so that we may recognize. Know, O brother, that the name `alam is derived from [the word] `ilm(knowledge), because the traces of knowledge are evident in [all] parts of the physical world. Thus, we say that the very constitution (nihad) of the world is based on a profound wisdom"(Nasir Khusraw, 11th century Fatimid Ismaili cosmologist-philosopher-poet, from his book "Knowledge and Liberation")

“The physician considers [the bones] so that he may know a way of healing by setting them, but those with insight consider them so that through them they may draw conclusions about the majesty of Him who created and shaped [the bones]. What a difference between the two who consider!”(Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, Muslim Theologian-Philosopher-Mystic, d1111CE)

Ayats(Signs) In The Universe Series:A Collection of Seven+ Posts;Quotes of Noble Quran, Prophet Muhammad, Aga Khans, Nasir Khusraw + Al Sijistani

Easy Nash

In Shia Islam, intellect is a key component of faith. Intellect allows us to understand the creation of God: Aga Khan IV(2008)
The Qur'an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
The Quran tells us that signs of Allah's Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives: Aga Khan IV(2007)
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2006)
The Holy Qu'ran's encouragement to study nature and the physical world around us gave the original impetus to scientific enquiry among Muslims: Aga Khan IV(1985)
The first and only thing created by God was the Intellect(Aql): Prophet Muhammad(circa 632CE)