Magazine article Science News

Freeze! Insect Proteins Halt Ice Growth

Magazine article Science News

Freeze! Insect Proteins Halt Ice Growth

Article excerpt

In cold climates, cars often need an infusion of antifreeze to survive the winter. Many fish, insects, and plants are no different, but they produce their own protection--proteins that prevent their insides from turning to ice.

Scientists have studied fish antifreeze since the 1960s, but now researchers from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, have isolated and analyzed antifreeze proteins from insects. Virginia K. Walker, Peter L. Davies, and their colleagues collected the proteins from the spruce budworm, which is a moth larva, and from the common mealworm, a pest that feeds on grain.

The budworm protein is up to 30 times more potent than fish proteins, and the mealworm, protein is up to 100 times stronger, the group reports in the September Nature Biotechnology and the Aug. 21 Nature respectively.

"These are some of the most active antifreezes we have encountered so far," says Choy L. Hew, a biochemist at the University of Toronto who studies fish antifreeze proteins. Collecting enough protein from larvae was quite a feat, he adds.

If put in frozen foods, fish antifreeze proteins could help prevent ice from recrystallizing, as it does, for example, in ice cream left in the freezer too long. Scientists are also exploring the use of antifreeze proteins in preserving organs and tissues for transplants (SN: 3/21/92, p. 189). The greater potency of the insect proteins suggests that they could be used in lower concentrations, says Laurie A. Graham, a coauthor of the Nature study. …

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