Insects live and thrive in some of the most inhospitable environments on earth, including extremely desiccating conditions such as deserts. To make a living in such places many species possess a powerful water-extraction system called the cryptonephridial (or ‘buried kidney’) complex. The complex recovers water from the rectum and recycles it back to the body. The system is so efficient it can extract every trace of water to produce powder-dry excreta.
The complex is widespread in insects, but beetles harness its power in a novel and impressive way—they use it to take up water from their environment. Some beetle species, such as those living in the Namib desert in Africa where it rains less than half an inch a year, seize the chance to harvest water from fog-laden air. Using the system the beetles absorb water vapour from fog directly through their rectum!
Despite having an important role in insect physiology and ecology little is known about how the cryptonephridial complex works or how it is assembled during development.
The project will use the model beetle species Tribolium to identify the key transport mechanisms that drive water movement through the complex, and to identify how the insect body plan has been repurposed during beetle evolution to establish one of most powerful water-extraction systems in nature.