Carleton Researcher Discovers that Fruit Flies Die in the Cold due to Leaky Guts

Carleton University’s Heath MacMillan, professor in the Department of Biology, has been investigating why fruit flies cannot tolerate low temperatures. It turns out that leaky guts have something to do with it.

Unlike people, the body temperature follows the temperature of the air surrounding them. And a cold fly is a sad fly.

The research was published today in Scientific Reports.

The MacMillan Lab at Carleton studies the physiology of chill susceptible insects.

“We know surprisingly little about the physiological mechanisms that set the limits of animal survival at high and low temperatures,” said MacMillan. “With insect populations already responding to rapid climate change, there is an urgent need to better understand how temperature impacts their physiology.”

In the cold, insects struggle to keep salts and water from accumulating in their gut. Researchers used fruit flies to examine whether this loss of balance was related to a problem regulating the barriers between cells in the gut, which normally act to keep what’s inside the gut from getting into the rest of the body. Indeed, exposure to 0°C caused the guts of the flies to leak.

Kaylen Brzezinski, a graduate student working with MacMillan, plans to expand on the research using locusts, an insect separated from fruit flies by more than 300 million years of evolution. The ultimate goal is to understand how temperature sets limits to insect survival. This information is critical to predicting and controlling insect pests in a changing climate.


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