These Arctic Fish Are Full of Antifreeze


The Liparis gibbus is capable of biofluorescence and prevents it from freezing.

The deep sea is filled with creatures adapted to intense environments, and new research describes how biofluorescent snailfish near Greenland use antifreeze proteins to keep themselves alive in frigid waters.

Researchers from the American Museum of Natural History and the City University of New York wanted to know how snailfish in an iceberg habitat off the coast of eastern Greenland survive in water around 28.4 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 degrees Celsius). They sequenced the RNA of a juvenile Liparis gibbus—better known as the fur snailfish – and found that the fish depend on a high amount of special proteins to limit the formation of ice crystals in their bodies. Their work is published in Evolutionary Bioinformatics.

“There is a great diversity of mechanisms that different animals have evolved to withstand extreme cold,” study author David Gruber said in an email to Gizmodo. “Antifreeze proteins prevent the formation of large ice crystals in their bodies. Other strategies, such as cytoprotectants, help minimize cell shrinkage and other adaptations help preserve membrane structure.”

The snailfish generates the proteins in the liver, from which they are distributed in the blood. The antifreeze proteins do not completely prevent the formation of ice crystals, but limit their growth to “manageable sizes” as described in the article.

Gruber, a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History and a professor at CUNY, along with co-author John Sparks observed snailfish glowing green and red during an August 2019 expedition. first documentation of biofluorescence in Arctic fish.

“When we found that the snailfish was biofluorescent, we sequenced its entire transcriptome to look for the gene responsible for its fluorescent protein,” Gruber said. “While we didn’t find this gene, we found that some of the most highly expressed genes were related to antifreeze proteins.”

Because these fish are optimized for icy waters, the researchers are concerned about what will happen to the snailfish as ocean temperatures warm. While the snailfish can survive in warmer waters, those warmer waters will push biodiversity to higher latitudes, potentially threatening their role in the food chain.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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