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Fish Antifreeze

In this Moment of Science, we discuss fish that do not freeze even in very cold water.

In this Moment of Science, we discuss fish that do not freeze even in very cold water. What do fruit crops, frozen food, and human organ transplants all have in common?

Besides the fact that they all can be damaged by the formation of ice crystals, all these materials might soon benefit from the current research being conducted on fish swimming in the Arctic and Antarctic waters.

Teleost fish, as well as some other life forms at the poles, are special because they possess natural antifreeze called antifreeze glycoprotein. This antifreeze prevents ice from growing in the fish. These various kinds of fish, which as a group are called teleost fish, can live in very cold environments without freezing. I don’t know why they would want to live where it’s so cold, but since they do it’s amazing how nature has evolved the chemistry that allows the fish to live in such frigid climates.

Although scientists don’t understand yet how the fish’s natural antifreeze works, they know enough about it to experiment with their own imitations. They’ve recently developed a synthetic version that can withstand all but extreme temperatures, and it can easily be produced in mass quantities. You can imagine the possibilities.

It might mean an expansion of the growing season of various crops. It might mean that fruits will be grown in more northern climates. It might mean a better and safer way to store organ transplants. And finally, we can only hope that it will mean the end to freezer burn.

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