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Why do insects stop 'breathing'? To avoid damage from too much oxygen, say researchers

cessitating a better ventilation system. While oxygen is essential for their cells to produce energy, the removal of carbon dioxide from their bodies is equally important to prevent its toxic buildup in tissues. "Even in our own case, our bodies have to supply oxygen to our tissues, but they must also keep out excess oxygen to prevent oxidative damage to the tissues. This damage is closely related to aging. Hence, perhaps, the many anti-oxidative creams flooding the market to combat aging. The concentration of oxygen in the air we breathe is toxic to us. Indeed, fruit flies, which have been studied closely for decades, die sooner from aging in a high-oxygen environment."

Insects take in oxygen through spiracles -- tubes connected to openings in their sides. In their study, the researchers inserted fine tubes into the spiracles of a moth to measure not only how much carbon dioxide the moth released but also the concentration of oxygen in its trachea, the series of tubes that carry air directly to cells for gas exchange. Using a respirometer (an instrument for measuring respiration that consists of a chamber with a flow-through air system), they monitored the moth's breathing pattern. The chamber, which housed the moth being studied, was filled first with air that had been freed of carbon dioxide. Next, a device measured when and how much carbon dioxide originated from the insect.

Bradley explained that insects typically maintain 4-5 kilopascals of oxygen in their respiratory systems, 4-5 times lower than the normal oxygen concentration in the atmosphere. In a normal oxygen-concentration environment, the insect breathes for a period of time and releases a burst of carbon dioxide. It then closes its respiratory system, blocking off more intake of oxygen, to maintain the internal oxygen concentration at 4-5 kilopascals, the right oxygen concentration for its body. In a low-oxygen environment, the insect opens its respiratory system for longer periods of
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Source:University of California - Irvine


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