Research

The Storey Lab investigates the basic biochemical principles of how organisms endure and flourish under extreme conditions. Our research seeks out the molecular mechanisms that underlie unique animal adaptations through the study of enzyme properties, gene expression, protein posttranslational modifications, and signal transduction mechanisms. The Lab is particularly well-known in the field of cryobiology for its studies of animals that survive whole body freezing during the winter, especially the frozen wood frog "frog-sicles" that have made Ken Storey’s work popular with many TV shows and magazines. But that’s not all. Our research is linked by 2 main themes: (1) biochemical adaptations that aid survival of environmental stress, and (2) metabolic rate depression – the ability to suppress metabolism and transition into a torpid or dormant state when times are tough. We use a range of modern molecular tools to explore these themes including enzyme kinetic analysis, protein purification, PCR, immunoblotting, differential scanning fluorimetry, Luminex technology and bioinformatics.

Main research areas are:

Freeze tolerance – Various species have the ability to survive long-term whole body freezing with as much as 65% of total body water frozen as extracellular ice. We study frogs, turtles, insects and intertidal snails that have all mastered this amazing strategy to survive Canadian winters. Related to this we also study an alternative method of cold hardiness, called freeze avoidance, to understand the mechanisms that allow many insects to remain liquid in a supercooled state at temperatures of ‑40°C or lower.

Hibernation and torpor – Although alien to man, many small mammals can drop their metabolic rate and let their body temperature cool to ambient values when times are tough. By doing this they stretch the time that their internal body fuel reserves can keep them alive. We analyze the molecular mechanisms that ensure survival whether it be over many months of winter hibernation or just overnight torpor that provides enough energy-savings for animals to live another day. We study ground squirrels and bats as main models of hibernation with exciting new work on species as diverse as Madagascar lemurs and South American marsupials.

Estivation – Estivation is a state of hypometabolism, typically triggered by arid conditions and hot temperatures and is a particularly prominent survival strategy of desert animals. We study estivating frogs and snails that spend many months of the year in dormancy to understand the molecular principles of torpor control and their remarkable tolerances of dehydration.

Anoxia tolerance – Humans can survive without oxygen for only a few minutes but many animals have adapted to survive oxygen deprivation that can last days or months. We study the biochemistry of anoxia survival ranging from turtles that live for 3-4 months without breathing while hibernating underwater to intertidal snails that face oxygen deprivation every time the tide goes out to freshwater crayfish that can encounter oxygen limitation in both winter and summer environments.