Magazine article Science News

Chemists Redesign Natural Antifreeze

Magazine article Science News

Chemists Redesign Natural Antifreeze

Article excerpt

Chemists have created a family of synthetic compounds akin to proteins that keep Arctic and Antarctic fish from freezing stiff. If the new molecules can work as well as the fish proteins do, they could offer a new route to protecting frozen foods and chilled transplant organs from destructive ice buildup.

Researchers discovered these so-called antifreeze proteins in the 1960s (SN: 4/19/97, p. 237). Scientists believe that the compounds bind to tiny ice crystals and make it harder for them to grow. Researchers have shown that the antifreeze proteins can thwart ice-crystal formation when added to food.

Yet, researchers haven't revealed molecular details of how the proteins work. Also, harvesting the proteins from fish is costly and time-consuming, says chemist Robert N. Ben of the State University of New York at Binghamton.

In the September-October BIOCONJUGATE CHEMISTRY, Ben and his colleagues report a new method for chemically synthesizing molecules that resemble sugar-containing antifreeze proteins called antifreeze glycoproteins.

The new chemical strategy creates a whole family of compounds, each one a variation on natural antifreeze glycoproteins, the team reports. Structural differences among the variants might help reveal the molecular motifs underlying the natural antifreeze proteins. Also, the variants might be more or less suited for specific anti-ice jobs, Ben says.

With an eye on commercial possibilities, the Binghamton team strengthened each of its molecules by creating a strong carbon-carbon bond in the location where the natural glycoproteins contain a weaker carbon-oxygen bond. …

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