Glacier ice worms (Mesenchytraeus solifugus) are the largest and most complex animals in which biological processes (e.g., growth, reproduction, metabolism, etc.) occur at zero degrees centigrade and below. Ice worms inhabit glaciers and ice fields ranging from central Oregon to Alaska, and a related species has been reported in Tibet. In this project, the researchers will collect worm specimens from strategic geographic regions (e.g., British Columbia, Tibet) to establish evolutionary relationships between distant ice worm populations and their temperate relatives (i.e., Mesenchytraeus species that typically occupy streams and lakes). By comparing specific DNA sequences (i.e., mitochondrial and ribosomal RNA genes), the investigators hope to reconstruct the evolutionary history of ice worms in North America and Asia. Additionally, the process of energy production in ice worms will be examined in detail. Previous studies demonstrate that ice worms have unusually high steady-state energy levels that may contribute to their cold temperature survival abilities. They hypothesize that a few key enzymes (i.e, AMP phosphatase, AMP deaminase) will be turned off in ice worms, while others (e.g., adenylosuccinate lyase) may display relatively enhanced activity?in combination, these changes may be necessary and sufficient to maintain elevated energy levels in ice worms. Collectively, these analyses will provide species history information on an organism that has survived past cycles of global climate change but is now directly threatened by the changing global climate, and will also shed light on the fundamentals of bioenergetics at low physiological temperatures. The project will integrate participants ranging from traditional students to K-12 teachers, to collect ice worms in the field and study them in the laboratory. Research objectives will be integrated into a Glacier Biology course at Alaska Pacific University, and laboratory courses at Rutgers University.
|Effective start/end date||8/15/08 → 7/31/12|
- National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation (NSF))