A leech capable of surviving exposure to extremely low temperatures

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Abstract

It is widely considered that most organisms cannot survive prolonged exposure to temperatures below 0 degrees C, primarily because of the damage caused by the water in cells as it freezes. However, some organisms are capable of surviving extreme variations in environmental conditions. In the case of temperature, the ability to survive subzero temperatures is referred to as cryobiosis. We show that the ozobranchid leech, Ozobranchus jantseanus, a parasite of freshwater turtles, has a surprisingly high tolerance to freezing and thawing. This finding is particularly interesting because the leach can survive these temperatures without any acclimation period or pretreatment. Specifically, the leech survived exposure to super-low temperatures by storage in liquid nitrogen (-196 degrees C) for 24 hours, as well as long-term storage at temperatures as low as -90 degrees C for up to 32 months. The leech was also capable of enduring repeated freeze-thaw cycles in the temperature range 20 degrees C to -100 degrees C and then back to 20 degrees C. The results demonstrated that the novel cryotolerance mechanisms employed by O. jantseanus enable the leech to withstand a wider range of temperatures than those reported previously for cryobiotic organisms. We anticipate that the mechanism for the observed tolerance to freezing and thawing in O. jantseanus will prove useful for future studies of cryopreservation.

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Suzuki, D., Miyamoto, T., Kikawada, T., Watanabe, M., & Suzuki, T. (2014). A leech capable of surviving exposure to extremely low temperatures. PLoS ONE, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0086807

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