Scientists isolate new antifreeze molecule in Alaska beetle

December 14, 2009,

Scientists have identified a novel antifreeze molecule in a freeze-tolerant Alaska beetle able to survive temperatures below minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike all previously described biological antifreezes that contain protein, this new molecule, called xylomannan, has little or no protein. It is composed of a sugar and a fatty acid and may exist in new places within the cells of organisms.

"The most exciting part of this discovery is that this molecule is a whole new kind of antifreeze that may work in a different location of the cell and in a different way," said zoophysiologist Brian Barnes, director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Arctic Biology and one of five scientists who participated in the Alaska Upis ceramboides beetle project.

Just as ice crystals form over ice cream left too long in a freezer, ice crystals in an insect or other organism can draw so much water out of the organism's cells that those cells die. Antifreeze function to keep small ice crystals small or to prevent from forming at all. They may help freeze-tolerant survive by preventing freezing from penetrating into cells, a lethal condition. Other insects use these molecules to resist freezing by supercooling when they lower their body temperature below the freezing point without becoming solid.

UAF graduate student and project collaborator Todd Sformo found that the Alaska Upis beetle, which has no common name, first freezes at about minus 18.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the lab and survives temperatures down to about 104 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

"It seems paradoxical that we find an antifreeze molecule in an organism that wants to freeze and that's adapted to freezing," said Barnes, whose research group is involved in locating insects, determining their strategies of overwintering and identifying the mechanisms that help them get through the winter

A possible advantage of this novel molecule comes from it having the same fatty acid that membranes do. This similarity, says Barnes, may allow the molecule to become part of a cell wall and protect the cell from internal ice crystal formation. Antifreeze molecules made of proteins may not fit into cell membranes.

"There are many difficult studies ahead," said Barnes. "To find out how common this biologic is and how it actually prevents freezing and where exactly it's located."

This project results were published in the Dec. 1 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: University of Alaska Fairbanks (news : web)

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not rated yet Dec 14, 2009
These extremophiles continue to give hope that life (in some form) may exist elsewhere in the universe, where we would previously have rejected all possibility of occurrence!
5 / 5 (1) Dec 15, 2009
If we could somehow incorporate such molecules in human organs without toxic side effects, long-term storage of donated organs would become possible and patients would no longer have to die while waiting for a suitable organ to become available.
not rated yet Dec 15, 2009
Many sugars can be attached to any fatty acid. This is easy, cheap and not an organic synthesis chemistry problem. If decomposition of this sugar ester was slow and the products were non-toxic to human tissue, this should work well.
Cadaver kidneys shipped in from China! An endless supply!
1 / 5 (1) Dec 15, 2009
If we could somehow incorporate such molecules in human organs without toxic side effects, long-term storage of donated organs would become possible and patients would no longer have to die while waiting for a suitable organ to become available.

But the flipside of the coin is very dark. Excruciatingly so. How dark?

How about killing of anyone and everyone at any time due to them looking like an excellent candidate for being a quality donor..due to the fact that organs can now (with this potential new anti-freeze tech) be stored --'near indefinitely?'.

Right now, organleggers kill and take young people at an exploding rate -and we are not handling or recognizing this point very well. They are only taking people according to orders that they can fill. If given the opportunity to store organs to sort out who the right recipient may be, imagine the horrific abuse issue this raises.

May as well start cloning in a dish- much safer for those who may take good care of themselves!
Dec 15, 2009
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