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Antifreeze to improve aeroplanes, ice cream and organ transplants

  • Design of aeroplane wings and storing organs for transplant both set to be safer and more effective, thanks to synthetic antifreeze developed by University of Warwick
  • Inspired by natural antifreeze proteins, researchers create iron-based synthetic imitation which has been shown to slow growth of ice crystals
  • Could protect aeroplane wings and wind turbines from ice damage, make ice cream smoother, or make freezing human tissue for transplantation safer
  • Design rules for making antifreeze proteins have been blown wide open by research

The design of aeroplane wings and storing organs for transplant could both become safer and more effective, thanks to a synthetic antifreeze which prevents the growth of ice crystals, developed by researchers at the University of Warwick.


Taking inspiration from Antifreeze Proteins (AFPs) which occur in nature, researchers from the Department of Chemistry and Warwick Medical School have developed iron-based synthetic imitations, which have been shown to slow to growth of ice crystals.

The researchers suggest that these antifreeze properties are a result of the iron complex containing separated regions with water-loving and water-hating characteristics, which mimics the properties observed in AFPs.

AFPs exist naturally in a variety of animals that live in the most extreme environments on earth - such as Arctic fish, which can use AFPs to stop their blood from freezing in sub-zero conditions.

The ability to prevent the growth of ice crystals could be of huge technological importance across a range of applications, from the protection of aeroplane wings and wind turbines from ice-damage, to making ice cream smoother or safely freezing human tissue for transplantation.

“Some of these were found to be very potent at stopping ice growing, a rare property normally only associated with antifreeze proteins,” explains lead researcher Professor Matthew Gibson.

“The versatile synthetic and adaptable nature of these compounds will let us fine-tune the structure to both understand the ice/water interface and develop new inhibitors for (bio)technological applications,” he continues.

The research, ‘Antifreeze Protein Mimetic Metallohelices with Potent Ice Recrystallization Inhibition Activity’ is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

It is co-authored by Professor Peter Scott and Dr. David Fox in the Department of Chemistry and Warwick Medical School.

To read the full paper click here.

Image: Professor Matthew Gibson, credit University of Warwick (click for high-res).

15 August 2017

Further information, contact:

Luke Walton, International Press Officer
+44 (0) 7824 540 863

+44 (0) 2476 150 868

L dot Walton dot 1 at warwick dot ac dot uk