Through a new study scientists at ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich have discovered a process through which they claim they can prevent water from freezing.
The process involves use of a new class of lipids known as lipidic mesophase that prevents water from crystalizing even at extreme sub-zero temperatures and also keeps it in its primary state of matter – liquid. According to the scientists, these lipids self-assemble and form a network of membrane channels. These channels are arranged uniformly and measure less than one nanometer in diameter.
The temperature, water content and this characteristic design of the lipid molecules, determines the structure of lipidic mesophase, which helps water to retain its amorphous characteristics of a liquid. Through this process, the narrow membrane channels provide no room for water to form ice crystals and the lipids don’t freeze either.
Scientists explain in their study that they new class of lipids has been modelled on membranes of certain bacteria that are known to produce a special class of self-assembling lipids that can naturally confine water in their interior, enabling the microorganisms to survive in very cold environments. The soft biomaterial formed from the lipid membranes and water has a complex structure that minimises the water’s contact with the hydrophobic parts and maximises its interface with the hydrophilic parts.
The discovery will be beneficial for researchers to study the structure and functions of large and complex biomolecules such as proteins. The normal freezing process damages and destroys membranes and essential large biomolecules. The new mesophase has thus laid a foundation stone for biologists to conduct cumulative research in the future.