Supercooled livers last for days

Solution that protects rat livers from freezing could extend transplant window for human organs.

When a human donor organ becomes available, transplant surgeons have only about 12 hours to collect and transplant the tissue before it breaks down. But a slow-cooling method that first chills rat livers and then drops the temperature to below freezing — allowing them to be stored in a ‘supercooled’ but non-frozen state — keeps them fresh for three days. If the method works for human organs, it could drastically increase the number that are available for transplantation.

Researchers have attempted to freeze organs for decades to provide more time to transport and match them to recipients. But the combination of freezing and thawing irreparably damages cells, especially if ice forms inside them. So medical engineer Korkut Uygun, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and his colleagues developed a method that aims to skip the ice-forming stage of freezing altogether.

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Yesterday we learned the surprising etymological connection between pies and diamonds:  the Ancient Greek root kryos give us both modern words crystal and crust.  This root word has been busy lately, giving today’s word and emerging science cryogenics and a host of similar words.  Cryogenic combines with the common Ancient Greek suffix genos from the proto Indo European base *gen-/*gon-/*gn- meaning to produce, beget, be born.  Cryogenics is the branch of physics and engineering that happens at or near absolute freezing.  In addition to cryogenics, we have cryonics, cryobiology, cryosurgery, cryoelectronics.   

Image of liquid oxygen (with a freezing point of 50.5 K (−368.77 °F; −222.65 °C)), courtesy of Dr. Harwick Hillier, Australian National University, under GNU General Public License. 


Copy Cat - why scientists in New Orleans are cloning wildcats


Cryobiology is pretty wack. This is a time lapse of a frog unfreezing (i.e. it’s fine at the end); it takes over ten hours, so the video is just a couple clips of initial movements - blinking, pulmonary breathing, limb twitches.

Related paper, as linked in the description: Avoidance and tolerance of freezing in ectothermic vertebrates.

Cryobiologists have been freezing and unfreezing small vertebrates, like frogs and mice, since the 50s or so. It was pretty hard to do reliably at first! Gotta avoid ice crystals destroying the animal and such. But it is, fascinatingly, doable.

Wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) freeze up to 60 percent of their bodies during the long and extremely cold Alaskan winters, scientists say.

These frogs are incredible! One of nature’s great miracles.  it’s staggering that they can basically freeze to death and resurrect each year! I would have liked to be able to do that and just cryoslept my way through that brutal stretch. #science #plants #nature #ice #freezing #Cryobiology

decided to make a nature video but the intent is edited out but the funny parts are edited in :)

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This morning the thermometer read near 0 F which reminded me of the internal temperatures of seed vaults, -18C. This picture is of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The vault is often referred to as the “Doomsday Vault.” Seed banks have been around for quite some time. The largest is the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins Colorado:

The idea of seedbanks is to store the genetic diversity of crop species and species related to crops. The goal is to have in the collections the genes necessary for crop improvements and to provide a source for protecting crops from potential problems.

The crops of much of the world have very little genetic diversity - they have been selected for yield at the expense of any other concerns. Thus when a new pathogen enters a nation’s agricultural lands, entire crops are put at risk. Say, a new corn smut (a fungal pathogen) were to get into North America, and the current corn varieties have little resistance to the smut. The goal would be to use the seed bank to search for resistance genes that could be crossed into the modern crops to restore the production.

The Svalbard vault operates with a different mentality. The idea is that the storage there is permanent until a large scale disaster occurs and the seed need to be brought out to restore entire crops. The idea is back up seed banks around the world. What goes unnoticed is that the world’s seed banks already back each other up. In the Fort Collins seed bank are collections from seed banks from around the world.

The other thing that goes unnoticed with the press coverage of the Svalbard facility is that seed banks are not places of suspended animation. Cold storage slows life but does not halt it. Seeds lose vitality over time. Some seeds can apparently last hundreds of years in cold storage, while others can only last decades, and still others cannot really be preserved at all. For some plants the most effective storage is to keep budwood (which can be grafted to living plants) stored in liquid nitrogen. Svalbard does not have this capability.

At active collection seed banks the viabilitiy of the collection undergoes continual monitoring and if the viability of a sample falls below a certain threshold that  part of the collection is sent out for regeneration (this, of course, opens up a whole can of worms regarding the loss of diversity through genetic drift - but that is another story). Svalbard does not have that vitality testing, so in effect, much of the material stored there will likely end up dead and of little value over time.