Psychrophiles for all
3/9/12

Psychrophile-flavoured ice cream

Pseudomonas ENHowever, psychrophile bacteria are not the only ones to be of interest to industry. The numerous properties of krill, the tiny cold-water shrimps from the Southern Ocean, have also been adapted in every possible way: food (in particular, an oil rich in omega 3), cosmetics (face creams, etc.), medical and pharmaceutical (anti-inflammatory agent, prevention of immune rejection reactions, etc.).

In the family of low temperature-loving marine animals are Arctic fish, which continue to intrigue scientists. This is because of their ability to withstand temperatures below zero without freezing thanks to the presence of antifreeze proteins in their blood, which inhibit the development of ice crystals in their body fluids. A property that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Unilever, which has begun to integrate this famous antifreeze protein in its... ice cream! A means of preventing crystallization, while making them more creamy and better for your health (less additives and fewer added fats). A round of applause for Arctic fish!

Bye-bye calf intestines

Besides industrial applications, psychrophiles can also prove to be very useful in molecular biology. Thanks to the properties of alkaline phosphatase among other things. “A very well known enzyme”, confirms Georges Feller. “For instance, if you want to insert a gene into a plasmid, you have to open it first. However, plasmids automatically close, almost like a reflex. Hence, the solution is to eliminate a phosphate group using an alkaline phosphatase. Up until now, this was calf-intestinal alkaline phosphatase. The difficulty was then getting rid of it so that the plasmid could close once the gene had been inserted. This was a very complicated operation. Then emerged the idea of using an alkaline phosphatase sensitive to temperature and therefore easy to eliminate; it is marketed under the name Antarctic Phosphatase.”

It is a fact, psychrophiles can be used in a multitude of applications. A quick look at the Bioprospector.org website (online database with a list of all the different patents, goods and companies who are studying the genetic resources of Antarctica and the Arctic) should be enough to convince you. There is also bioremediation, where microorganisms are used to decontaminate environments polluted in winter, many medical and pharmaceutical uses (research into new antibiotics, anticancer drugs, elaboration of neutraceutical products, etc.), and research concerning veterinary medicine, fish farming, cosmetics, etc.

“It is very difficult to know all the applications”, the researcher explains. “Because even if a patent has been registerd, we don’t necessarily know where the enzymes are from owing to industrial secrecy.”

The range of possibilities remains vast. The potential of psychrophiles would appear to be far greater than that of thermophiles, since the former have a greater diversity and can be applied in a greater variety of domains. Another positive point is that they help to save energy and are generally less harmful for the environment. Finally, many microorganisms have yet to be discovered in the polar regions. The source of certain innovations are perhaps already in the university’s freezers, among the samples kept safely in the cold that have yet to be analysed…

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