Beetle bums, buried kidneys and the art of drinking through your anus
Insects can live and thrive in some of the most inhospitable environments on earth, including extreme conditions such as the desert. To survive these conditions, many insect species possess a powerful water-conserving system called the cryptonephridial (or ‘buried kidney’) complex, which recovers water from the rectum that is recycled back to the body.
This remarkable system even allows absorption of water from moist air through the anus, providing a novel physiological mechanism for water uptake.
The project, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Glasgow, will use the model beetle species Tribolium to identify key transport mechanisms that drive movement of water through the system.
It is anticipated that the work will significantly broaden our understanding of one of the most powerful insect water-conserving systems known to nature, with the possibility that it will unmask ‘design principles’ offering inspiration to biomimicry engineers.
Tribolium is a devastating agricultural pest of flour and other dry-store grain products. Because the cryptonephridial complex is central to the beetle’s ability to survive dry conditions, the study could also pave the way for the discovery of novel pest management strategies.
'The art of drinking with your bum'; article in eu:sci, p7, issue 19, spring2016