Insects In Stasis
    By David Sloan | March 25th 2010 11:25 PM | 2 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    David is a neuroscientist in the field of sensory-limbic circuitry. He published his debut novel, [Brackets], in October 2012. He is a member of...

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    At Nature's Innocentive site, (a directory for X-prizes), there is an entry looking for someone who can develop a standard method of placing insects into a latent state and then reanimating them.  If you figure it out, you can win 20,000 bucks. 

    What's interesting about the offer isn't that someone is willing to pay big money in order to Han Solo a housefly.  (And by the way, you can put a house fly in a freezer for a minute, take it out, tie a string around it and watch it zoom around when it wakes up, but you can't get 20,000 bucks for suggesting that.)  Anaesthesia doesn't count, either. 

    What's interesting is that what the prize is really asking is for someone to figure out how to stop an insect from aging.  You would have to figure out how to completely shut down cellular process-- including cell death-- in a complex multicellular organism and keep it alive at the same time.

    I have no idea how to do that.  But I wonder if there are principles in simpler organisms that can be extrapolated.  Lots of tinier creatures go into latent phases.  I believe that in many of those cases, there are specialized genetic programs for producing a lot of heat shock protein and for dealing with dehydration: not things that are typically considered practical.

    The deadline for the prize is the end of May, and I'll be very interested to see if anyone gets it. I would suggest that those attempting it not use ugly insects.  There is no point for someone to pay 20 grand for a procedure that will keep alive a bug when the public pays 6 bucks per can of Raid to try and kill it.


    Andrea Kuszewski
    Mark Roth has already done this; he presented his method at TED 2010 last month.
    Hey!  Thanks for the catch.  Imagine my surprise to find that the research he presented about, using sulfide to lower oxygen requirements, is actually 3-5 years old (here and here, if you have ovid access), and that there is already a medical application in human trials.  (On a side note, how cool is it that there's a forum where scientists can give a presentation that looks exactly like a Comedy Central special?)

    With regards to the Innocentive challenge, the method would have to be adjusted for insects at different stages (just lowering oxygen demand may not work for eggs, for example).  Most of the larger organism work (from what I've read) puts them in stasis for matters of hours.  I believe the challenge requires storage on the order of months, so there is more to be proven.  But there are interesting possibilities there.