The ability to tolerate bouts of oxygen deprivation varies tremendously across the animal kingdom. Adult humans from different regions show large variation in tolerance to hypoxia; additionally, it is widely known that neonatal mammals are much more tolerant to anoxia than their adult counterparts, including in humans. Drosophila melanogaster are very anoxia-tolerant relative to mammals, with adults able to survive 12 h of anoxia, and represent a well-suited model for studying anoxia tolerance. Drosophila live in rotting, fermenting media and a result are more likely to experience environmental hypoxia; therefore, they could be expected to be more tolerant of anoxia than adults. However, adults have the capacity to survive anoxic exposure times ~8 times longer than larvae. This dissertation focuses on understanding the mechanisms responsible for variation in survival from anoxic exposure in the genetic model organism, Drosophila melanogaster, focused in particular on effects of developmental stage (larval vs. adults) and within-population variation among individuals.
Vertebrate studies suggest that surviving anoxia requires the maintenance of ATP despite the loss of aerobic metabolism in a manner that prevents a disruption of ionic homeostasis. Instead, the abilities to maintain a hypometabolic state with low ATP and tolerate large disturbances in ionic status appear to contribute to the higher anoxia tolerance of adults. Furthermore, metabolomics experiments support this notion by showing that larvae had higher metabolic rates during the initial 30 min of anoxia and that protective metabolites were upregulated in adults but not larvae. Lastly, I investigated the genetic variation in anoxia tolerance using a genome wide association study (GWAS) to identify target genes associated with anoxia tolerance. Results from the GWAS also suggest mechanisms related to protection from ionic and oxidative stress, in addition to a protective role for immune function.
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