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Friday, December 18, 2009

Antifreeze in Alaskan Beetle

Zoophysiologist Brian Barnes of the University of Alaska Fairbanks has discovered a new kind of antifreeze in the Alaskan beetle Under lab tests, the insects survived temperatures of negative 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some animals that are adapted to extreme cold make natural antifreezes that prevent their cells from dying.  Because living cells are mostly water, at very cold temperatures ice crystals will form within the cells, bursting them.  Antifreeze prevents ice from forming, or at least keeps the ice crystals very small when they do form.
Until now, all natural antifreezes have contained protein.  However, Upis ceramboides produces a molecule named xylomannan which is composed of a sugar and a fatty acid.  Because this new antifreeze molecule is structurally similar to cell wall membrane components, Barnes speculates that it may function as part of the cell wall membrane.
This nontoxic antifreeze could have a number of medical and agricultural uses.

Photo of Upis ceramboides by Todd Sformo/Wildlife biologist, North Slope

Thanks to Cathy Earle and Patty Hunt for catching my wall/membrane error.  We all know animals do not have cell walls.