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How Fruit Fly's Fascinating Ability To Adapt To Climate Change Can Help Us Survive

Jul 07, 2016 02:20 AM EDT
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Fruit flies may be small but they can do big things for climate change research.

A recent study revealed that the fruit flies' ability to drastically change body temperature to adapt to the changing environment can help in further understanding how climate change affects insects and their habitat.

Canadian Press reported that Heath MacMillan, together with researchers in Canada, Switzerland and Japan, raised fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) from eggs through their maggot stage at a room temperature of 21 degrees Celsius. These insects transferred them to a 6-degrees-Celsius space when they reached the adult stage.

Most insects are ectotherms, meaning they are dependent on external sources of body heat, making temperature the biggest determining factor of their enduring lineage.

"Temperature is one of the strongest predictors of the global distribution of insect species," said MacMillan, as per Science Daily. "This is because temperature affects all aspects of insect physiology, and limits the ability of insects to move, eat and reproduce."

After six days, the researchers found out how considerably their bodies adapted to the cold. Given that they already know the insects' adaptive capability, what amazed them is the extent of how they modified their physiology to adapt to the cold temperature.

"We saw nearly a third of the fly's genes increased or decreased in expression, and the abundance of roughly half of the metabolites changed at the same time," said Brent Sinclair, one of the researchers involved in the study.

"Many of the genes and metabolites we saw changing are in support of the current state of knowledge on insect cold tolerance, which is encouraging. However, a lot of what we saw was new and is providing us with some exciting paths forward," he added.

Insects represent more than 75 percent of all animal species, which is why understanding how they react to changes in the environment is necessary. Insects provide vital roles in delivery substantial ecosystem services, which means changes in their abundance and diversity have the potential to alter the services they provide. This can thus affect numerous populations and all other kinds of species on the planet.

Whether we like it or not, insects have an intimate bond with all living things on Earth and they play an important role in the global food chain. Because they pollinate more than 90 percent of the crops that we eat, their death would also mean the death of the human and animal population.

Understanding their ability to adapt to climate change means understanding how the organisms that depend on insects can survive.

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