The process of keeping liquids from freezing may have just been revolutionized — thanks to a lowly beetle in Alaska. Scientists have identified a new biological antifreeze in the Unis beetle that helps it survive temperatures below minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
"The most exciting part of this discovery is that this molecule is a whole new kind of antifreeze that may work in a different location of the cell and in a different way," said zoophysiologist Brian Barnes, director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Arctic Biology.
The antifreeze molecule found in the extremely freeze-tolerant Upis ceramboides beetle, called ‘xylomannan’, contains little or no protein.
Made up of a sugar and a fatty acid, its low protein content helps the beetle survive incredibly cold temperatures without forming ice crystals or allowing freezing to occur within its cells.
The Alaska Upis beetle first freezes at about 18.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the lab and can survive in conditions as cold as 104 degrees below zero, according to project collaborator Todd Sformo.
Since xylomannan contains the same fatty acids found in cell membranes, it may allow the antifreeze molecule to become part of a cell wall and protect the cell from ice crystal formation.
"There are many difficult studies ahead," Barnes told Science Daily. "To find out how common this biologic antifreeze is and how it actually prevents freezing and where exactly it's located."