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Breathing easy: When it comes to oxygen, a bug's life is full of it

Because of new imaging technology, researchers are getting a better understanding of a physiological paradox: how insects, which have a respiratory system built to provide quick access to a lot of oxygen, can survive for days without it.

The insect respiratory system is so efficient that resting insects stop taking in air as they release carbon dioxide, according to research by Stefan K. Hetz of Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. This allows them to keep oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in balance. Too great a concentration of oxygen is toxic, causing oxidative damage to the insect’s tissues, just as it does in humans.

Hetz is one of four speakers at the upcoming symposium “Respiratory control in insects: integration from the gene to the organism.?The symposium, sponsored by The American Physiological Society (APS) takes place 10:30 a.m., Sunday, April 29 during the APS annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2007 in Room 147A, the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Scott Kirkton of Union College, Schenectady, New York, will lead the symposium of four speakers.

Why bugs don’t pant

Bees consume large amounts of oxygen, and so it might be tempting to think they are panting ?tiny inaudible pants. They are not, because they do not breathe through noses or mouths. Instead, insects draw in oxygen through holes in their bodies known as spiracles and pump the oxygen through a system of increasingly tiny tubes (tracheae) that deliver oxygen directly to tissues and muscles. Insects typically have a pair of spiracles for each thoracic and abdominal segment.

The same tubes that transport oxygen into the insect body usher out carbon dioxide. Insects use different methods to release carbon dioxide, including opening the thoracic spiracles (the ones closest to the head) to take in oxygen while exhaling carbon dioxide through the abdominal spiracles. Insects also use different mechanisms to pump the oxygen to t
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Source:American Physiological Society


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