WTAJ Originals: PSU research team discovers how beetle stores toxins without being harmed

Daily Originals

Everybody has a self-defense system.

Some use brute force…others like Ground Beetles prefer to use their own nasty combination of chemicals to ward off predators.

But how are these beetles able to store toxic chemicals in their bodies without being killed themselves?

A question first-year Penn State Ph.D. student Adam Rork sought to answer by looking deep inside the beetles.

“Previously, a lot of folks have only been able to take images with light microscopes, like the one behind me, which doesn’t really show you anything about tissue composition,” said Rork, a Ph.D. Entomology student.

For the first time, a specific type of Ground Beetle called a Carabid Beetle, was dissected, and put under a newer and larger microscope with filtered and concentrated light.

What Rork saw…

“One of the structures wasn’t lighting up like we expected it to, so we turned on a laser that is usually used to visualize the presence of a special compound called resilin,” said Rork. “And when we turned that on, the structure that we couldn’t see before lit up like a Christmas tree.”

Resilin is a stretchy protein compound almost like a rubber that is chemically resistant to the formic acid inside the beetle.

This rubber-like material had a duct-work system that led throughout the body, which explained how the acid was transported inside the beetle.

Rork says resilin could be helpful in humans too.

“It could definitely be used to store certain chemicals in the body, or in systems where you have to keep two chemicals apart,” he said and went on to say, “We were ecstatic…because this is something that scientists had been wondering about for sometime and we just now figured out.”

Rork says the next goal in his research is to examine many other types of Ground Beetles under a microscope to see if they are similar inside.

Research Photos Courtesy of:

“Adam Rork, István Mikó, & Tanya Renner”

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