As chefs, farmers and medical researchers all know, living material generally doesn't tolerate the freezing process very well. The formation of ice crystals can easily damage fragile tissues. An antifreeze inspired by Mother Nature may help: researchers have developed a synthetic version of an antifreeze protein used by fish that dwell in the Arctic and the Antarctic. The findings will be presented August 30 at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Scientists have long known about the so-called antifreeze glycoprotein (AFGP) that the fish and some other organisms produce. But engineering stable mimics and producing them in sufficient quantities proved impossible. (Harvesting the compound would be cost- and labor-intensive.) Robert N. Ben of the State University of New York at Binghamton and his colleagues have cleared these hurdles, making a longer-lasting synthetic version of the fish AFGP by strengthening a weak chemical bond in the natural form. The new method yields large quantities of the ice-inhibiting compound.

"This is very significant and may mean a real leap forward in the design of such compounds; we think this is incredibly promising for a number of applications," Ben remarks. Such applications, he notes, could one day include protecting crops from frost, eliminating freezer burn and better preserving human organs and tissues for transplantation.