Synthetic antifreeze could improve ice-cream and organ transplants

By Nichola Murphy
Tuesday, 29 August, 2017

Researchers from the University of Warwick have developed a synthetic antifreeze that prevents the growth of ice crystals. From stopping aeroplane wings from freezing to improving ice-cream, the wide-reaching effects of this antifreeze are diverse and could increase the safety and effectiveness of a range of tasks.

Published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Professor Peter Scott and Dr David Fox in the Department of Chemistry and Warwick Medical School co-authored the study alongside lead researcher Professor Matthew Gibson. They drew inspiration from naturally occurring antifreeze proteins (AFPs) in their study, ‘Antifreeze Protein Mimetic Metallohelices with Potent Ice Recrystallization Inhibition Activity’.

Animals living in extreme environments have developed natural AFPs to prevent their blood from freezing, such as the Arctic fish. The antifreeze properties are a result of the iron complex containing separated regions with water-loving and water-hating characteristics, which mimics the properties observed in AFPs. Using this theory, researchers developed an iron-based synthetic version that slows the growth of ice crystals.

“Some of these were found to be very potent at stopping ice growing, a rare property normally only associated with antifreeze proteins,” explained Gibson.

“The versatile synthetic and adaptable nature of these compounds will let us fine-tune the structure to both understand the ice/water interface and develop new inhibitors for (bio)technological applications.”

Preventing ice crystals from forming is not only a convenient solution for making ice-cream smoother, but it could have significant importance in the biotechnical sphere, including safely freezing human tissue for transplants.

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