A Cold-Blooded Approach to Biology

Western University Professor Brent Sinclair’s research on insect life may extend ours.

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According to Brent Sinclair, Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at Western University, insects make the world go round. The most obvious example is the impact they can have on our food supply. Not only do they pollinate our crops to ensure they thrive, but they also feed on them which can devastate entire harvests.

Insects are cold blooded, which means that their body temperature is the same as their environment. In Canada, that means that insects need to be able to survive temperatures well below freezing. Prof. Sinclair studies the biology of arthropods in cold environments to determine just how some insects can survive being frozen solid. Since much of an insect’s biology is determined by temperature, understanding the thermal biology of insects is a critical component to understanding how insects that destroy crops reproduce and survive.

But Sinclair’s research does not just have an impact on food production. If we can understand what it is about insects that enable them to survive being frozen, we can figure out what is it about our biology that does not allow humans to do the same. We could then apply this information to areas of biomedical research and improve our ability to freeze biological samples which would have important implications for organ donation.  If we could determine how to freeze organs, we would no longer have to fly them quickly by helicopter to whomever needs them, risking the quality of the organs themselves. We could store them and await an appropriate recipient.

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Brent Sinclair was born in New Zealand, and completed his undergraduate and PhD degrees in Zoology at the University of Otago.  After postdoctoral periods at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he came to Canada where he is in the Biology Department at Western University.  Brent’s research has focused on insect low temperature biology since he was an undergraduate.  His research has taken him to Antarctica eight times, the sub-Antarctica, many mountainous regions around the world, and (most recently) Siberia.  Nevertheless, his current favourite study site is his vegetable garden in London, Ontario, where he and his students conduct many experiments on the overwintering biology of Canadian insects.