It did it its way

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Temperatures can get cold. And living organisms have to find ways of keeping themselves warm. Humans use clothes. Polar bears grow fur. Whales are lined with blubber. And many animals avoid the cold by migrating to warmer parts of the planet. But for cold-blooded animals - such as fish - things are sometimes more complicated. Especially when they live in waters which are ice-cold, on a seasonal basis or not. The formation of ice in an organism is dangerous because it can damage cells irreversibly. To solve this problem, Nature thought up an antifreeze system which hinders ice formation: antifreeze proteins. There are all sorts of antifreeze proteins but one is particularly special - Maxi - and keeps fish alive in waters as cold as - 1.9 °C. As its name suggests, it is much larger than the other antifreeze proteins known to date, but it also behaves very differently. What is more, its 3D structure has shed a very different light on the way the core of a protein is formed.

Protein Spotlight (ISSN 1424-4721) is a monthly review written by the Swiss-Prot team of the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. Spotlight articles describe a specific protein or family of proteins on an informal tone. Follow us: Subscribe · Twitter · Facebook

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Snapshot : Antifreeze protein

Fish from the polar regions only know one season : Winter. Temperatures are freezing, sometimes reaching -2°C ! But thanks to the salt, the seawater stays liquid. Fish, however, are not so salty. So why don’t they become solid blocks of ice? The notothenoid fish live in the chilly waters of the Antarctica and have devised very sophisticated ways of surviving extreme conditions. Thanks to the singular properties of antifreeze gylcopeptides, their body fluids remain fluid in ice-laden waters.

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