image- Nototheniod fish has glycoproteins or "antifreeze" in its blood to keep from freezing., credit: Norbert Wucredit: Norbert Wu

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How do fish in Antarctica keep from freezing?

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What else has glycoprotein compounds in its system?

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How can glycoprotein compounds help in surgery?

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In the early 1970s, NSF-funded research identified glycoproteins as the "antifreeze" in some Antarctic fish.

These compounds inhibit the growth of ice crystals in tissue, preventing them from damaging cells and tissues. Since this discovery, researchers have found similar compounds in other cold-water fish, insects, plants, fungi and bacteria.

Because of the numerous potential benefits of protecting tissue from damage by freezing, private companies have begun to explore the use of these compounds in

  • increasing freeze tolerance of commercial plants,
  • improving farm fish production in cold climates,
  • extending shelf life of frozen foods,
  • improving cryosurgery (i.e., surgery involving the freezing of certain tissues)
  • and improving preservation of tissues for transplant or transfusion in medicine.

NSF has funded and continues to fund basic research related to the distribution, evolution, regulation and mode of action of these antifreeze proteins.

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