Heat Tolerance and Aging of the Anhydrobiotic Seed Gall Nematode with SEM Observations

J. D. Eisenback, Ma Wei, C. W. Roane


The seed gall nematode, Anguina agrostis, feeds and reproduces within the developing ovaries of bentgrass seeds and overwinters in seed galls as anhydrobiotic juveniles. These dormant juveniles can survive within the seed gall for many years. In this dehydrated state, they are more tolerant to extreme environmental conditions than are their hydrated counterparts. Nematodes in seed galls were exposed to various high temperatures (80 to 1608C) for time intervals of 5 to 30 min. Survival decreased as time and temperature increased. Remarkably, these nematodes survived exposure to 1558C for 5 min, higher than that recorded for any other metazoan. In contrast, seed galls that had been stored at room temperature and humidity for 5 yr also survived exposure to extreme temperatures; however, their survival rates were not as high as those for freshly collected galls. Juveniles within the seed gall were coiled and grouped together conforming to the shape of the seed gall. The gross morphology of the cuticle of the juveniles was very smooth and relatively undistorted by the shrinkage from the loss water from their body tissues. Wherever the nematodes were cut with a razor blade, a small amount of their contents oozed out of the opening and coalesced with that of other nearby specimens and appeared gel-like. Elucidation of the mechanisms that enable these nematodes to remain viable after exposure to extreme heat remains a mystery. Understanding the changes that occur in these nematodes as they rehydrate and return to life from an ametabolic state may have major impacts on the life sciences, including insights into the answer of the age-old question: ‘‘What is life?’’

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