Frost-damaged oranges and freezer burn on your favourite ice cream might soon be a problem of the past thanks to an antifreeze protein found in some arctic fish, according to researchers at U of T and The Hospital for Sick Children.
The investigators have found the protein plays a role in preventing damage inflicted by extremely cold temperatures. "These proteins have many unusual properties and have become an important model for understanding how protein and ice interact," says Choy Hew, a professor of laboratory medicine and pathobiology at U of T and senior scientist in structural biology and biochemistry at HSC. "They are also helping us understand how genes are influenced by the environment and hormones."
Hew's research team is examining how the proteins enable fish to adapt to freezing temperatures by exploring the protein's structure, function and mode of action as well as the molecular mechanisms involved in switching the genes on and off.
"This research should have a significant impact on agricultural, aquacultural and other biotechnological industries," explains Hew, who originally identified the antifreeze gene. The research has far-reaching applications such as improvements in cell and organ preservation as well as the development of freeze-resistant crops and of other fish species that can survive cold temperatures. Their preliminary findings have already been used to lengthen platelet preservation times at cooler temperatures and lower the temperature at which Atlantic salmon can survive.
Hew's research is supported by the Medical Research Council of Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
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