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Freeze tolerance, supercooling points and ice formation: comparative studies on the subzero temperature survival of limno-terrestrial tardigrades

By Steffen Hengherr, Michael Roger Worland, A. Reuner, F. Brümmer and R.O. Schill


Many limno-terrestrial tardigrades live in unstable habitats where they experience extreme environmental conditions such as drought, heat and subzero temperatures. Although their stress tolerance is often related only to the anhydrobiotic state, tardigrades can also be exposed to great daily temperature fluctuations without dehydration. Survival of subzero temperatures in an active state requires either the ability to tolerate the freezing of body water or mechanisms to decrease the freezing point. Considering freeze tolerance in tardigrades as a general feature, we studied the survival rate of nine tardigrade species originating from polar, temperate and tropical regions by cooling them at rates of 9, 7, 5, 3 and 1 degrees Ch(-1) down to -30 degrees C then returning them to room temperature at 10 degrees Ch(-1). The resulting moderate survival after fast and slow cooling rates and low survival after intermediate cooling rates may indicate the influence of a physical effect during fast cooling and the possibility that they are able to synthesize cryoprotectants during slow cooling. Differential scanning calorimetry of starved, fed and cold acclimatized individuals showed no intraspecific significant differences in supercooling points and ice formation. Although this might suggest that metabolic and biochemical preparation are non-essential prior to subzero temperature exposure, the increased survival rate with slower cooling rates gives evidence that tardigrades still use some kind of mechanism to protect their cellular structure from freezing injury without influencing the freezing temperature. These results expand our current understanding of freeze tolerance in tardigrades and will lead to a better understanding of their ability to survive subzero temperature conditions

Topics: Biology and Microbiology
Publisher: Company of Biologists Ltd
Year: 2009
DOI identifier: 10.1242/jeb.025973
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