An antifreeze protein (AFP) found in snow fleas may soon find use in transplanted organs. The Queen’s University researchers, writing in Science, note this protein has some special characteristics:
“Unlike the antifreeze proteins in beetles and moths, AFPs in snow fleas break down and lose their structure at higher temperatures,” explains Dr. Peter Davies, Canada Research Chair in Protein Engineering. “This means that if used to store organs for transplants, they will be cleared from a person’s system very quickly, reducing the possibility of harmful antibodies forming.”
…Using a process called ice affinity purification, the team isolated the new protein, which is rich in an amino acid called glycine. “When you grow a “popsicle” of ice in the presence of these proteins, the AFPs bind to the ice and become included, while other proteins are excluded,” says Dr. Davies. “We use their affinity for ice as a tool to purify the protein.”
The antifreeze mechanism of snow fleas has been reported in other parts of the world, including Antarctica, but until now no one has isolated the protein. As well as its potential for use in organ transplants, the researchers suggest it could help to increase frost resistance in plants, and inhibit crystallization in frozen foods.