Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Science of Science Fiction: Animal Antifreeze

Do you like winter? I sure don't. If you happen to like winter so much that your story is set in a very cold location, you might want to read this article in the New York Times. It discusses ways in which fish and insects cope with cold weather. For these creatures, one of the main dangers of cold weather is the buildup of ice crystals, which can damage cells and organs. So, some of these animals have proteins that act as antifreeze. These proteins bind to ice crystals and extend the range at which water stays liquid. The really interesting thing about these proteins is that each different species has its own unique antifreeze; they all evolved the trait independently. Other insects use alcohols and complex sugars to control ice development. These molecules don't stop ice from forming the way the protein antifreezes do, but they keep the insides of cells unfrozen.

So, how can we apply this science to science fiction? I can think of a few ways:

1. These animals can provide inspiration for aliens in cold environments.
2. As a way to preserve organs for transplant (researchers are already studying this) or to save and freeze tissue/embryos so they can be thawed later (perhaps colonists could bring infants or young animals with them this way).
3. As a way to send humans on long space voyages; they can be frozen and then thawed on arrival.

Does anyone have any other general ideas they'd like to share?


Nisa said...

This is cool! I love science. I'm not sure I could ever write science fiction though. I'll stick to fantasy. :D

Ann said...

Fascinating stuff. I don't write science fiction, but your points sound like interesting story subjects.

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