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FASEB J. 1993 Nov;7(14):1338-43.

Bacterial ice nucleation: significance and molecular basis.

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Department of Plant Pathology, University of California, Berkeley 94720.


Several bacterial species are able to catalyze ice formation at temperatures as warm as -2 degrees C. These microorganisms efficiently catalyze ice formation at temperatures much higher than most organic or inorganic substances. Because of their ubiquity on the surfaces of frost-sensitive plants, they are responsible for initiating ice formation, which results in frost injury. The high temperature of ice catalysis conferred by bacterial ice nuclei makes them useful in ice nucleation-limited processes such as artificial snow production, the freezing of some food products, and possibly in future whether modification schemes. The rarity of other ice nuclei active at high subfreezing temperature, and the ease and sensitivity with which ice nuclei can be quantified, have made the use of a promoterless bacterial ice nucleation gene valuable as a reporter of transcription. Target genes to which this promoter is fused can be used in cells in natural habitats. Warm-temperature ice nucleation sites have also been extensively studied at a molecular level. Nucleation sites active at high temperatures (above -5 degrees C) are probably composed of bacterial ice nucleation protein molecules that form functionally aligned aggregates. Models of ice nucleation proteins predict that they form a planar array of hydrogen binding groups that closely complement that of an ice crystal face. Moreover, interdigitation of these molecules may produce a large contiguous template for ice formation.

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