Jessamine Bartlett

University of Birmingham


Life on the precipice: stress physiology of polar terrestrial invertebrates


Scott Hayward & Peter Convey

PhD Summary

Polar terrestrial environments frozen deserts, exposed to extremes of temperature and frequent bouts of desiccation and rehydration. The resident invertebrate fauna are therefore required to possess a suite of molecular and physiological adaptations to survive cold and water stress1. The flightless midge Eretmoptera murphyi has the capacity to tolerate freezing, rapidly cold harden and cryoprotectively dehydrate. Uniquely, larvae of this terrestrial species can also respire in water4. Interestingly, E. murphyi has only recently been introduced to the Antarctic, from sub-Antarctic South Georgia where it is endemic, but has undergone considerable increases in population density and extent. It is therefore an excellent model to identify what physiological adaptations could allow the establishment of new colonists under future climate change. In addition it represents a wonderful comparator species with another (recently sequenced) Antarctic midge Belgica antarctica. As yet we know very little about the molecular processes underpinning stress adaptation in E. murphyi, but there is good evidence in other insects that metabolites play a key role. In addition, understanding how tissues tolerate extended freezing and/or dehydration has far reaching applications in the cryopreservation of biological material. This project will determine how different environmental scenarios of habitat warming and flooding, as well as extreme cold and ice entrapment, drive the life history and physiological responses of E. murphyi. We will then employ state-of-the-art metabolomic techniques to characterise the molecular processes underpinning different stress response strategies.

What inspires you?

Growing up in the countryside and being force fed Darwin and David Attenborough from a young age!

Previous Activity

BSc Zoology, MSc Polar and Alpine Science, 3 years as a research assistant specialising in alpine habitats

Why did you choose Docotoral Research?

Only academia can fulfil my need to question and discover answers for myself, and then teach others those findings.

Why did you choose a CENTA Studentship?

I was particularly keen to work with both Scott Hayward and Pete Convey in collaboration on a polar or even bi-polar project that would allow us to explore the limits of life through terrestrial invertebrates. After nearly 3 years, only CENTA opened the doors to us for funding such a project. Thanks!

What are your future plans

I plan to either move straight into a post-doctoral fellowship, or win a junior lectureship straight after my PhD. I wish to establish myself as an expert in my field but be known for my interest in multi-disciplined approach to biological research. I would also like to further my participation in community engagement with science, in particular children and women. I hope greatly to have a lifetime career in academia, and contribute something small to the advancement of human knowledge. Even something teeny!