The Immortal Midge
How bioinformatics discovered the super powers of an African insect
We all know that Antarctica is home to penguins, that lichen can grow on its rocks , and that polar explorers live and work there. But is there another life in Antarctica that we can't see — a permanent community of microbes that can tolerate ultra-low temperatures? If so, where do they come from? Do they live there all the time, adapted to the harsh Antarctic conditions, or do they come down with the snow every year and get preserved in this massive outdoor fridge? Russian polar stations have been seeking answers to these questions for the last decade.
In 2009 and 2011 samples of Antarctic snow were taken from Russia's Mirny, Leningradskaya and Progress stations, located on the Antarctic coast. The microbial community living in the snow surface layer was found to be very diverse. In 2017, Victor Fedorchuk, an intern at the Skoltech Center for Life Sciences (headed by Professor Konstantin Severinov), travelled south to the sixth continent in search of final answers.
Drawn by
Katherina Voronina
Original idea and words by
Anna Titova with help from Nadezhda Andreenko
main characters
status: Researcher
Graduate of the Faculty of Bioengineering and Bioinformatics at Moscow State University, Junior Research Scientist at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech)
status: Supervisor
Graduate of the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics at Moscow State University, DSc in Biology, PhD (Candidate) in Physics and Mathematics; Deputy Director of the Institute for Information Transmission at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Professor and Director of master's degree programs in life sciences at Skoltech, and in data analysis in biology and medicine at the Higher School of Economics (Moscow)
status: Object of research
The sleeping chronomid, whose larvae endure almost complete dehydration for long periods and come to life when moisture returns
status: Object of research
Heat shock factor (HSF) is a regulator protein that controls transcription, i.e. the process of mRNA synthesis on the DNA matrix. When the temperature rises, HSF binds to the DNA and activates genes that encode proteins protecting the cell from damage caused by hot conditions.