Molecular aspects of adaptation to extreme cold environments

Adv Space Res. 1986;6(12):257-64. doi: 10.1016/0273-1177(86)90094-3.


Here are reviewed and summarized the strategies adopted by living organisms to survive low temperatures, from a molecular and membrane point of view. The presentation is aimed at a wide variety of readers. Two prime examples of connections between biological cold adaptation and the molecular level are (1) antifreeze proteins in fish from cold sea water, (the DNA sequence of the protein gene is now known) (2) the fluidity characteristics of cell membranes in a wide variety of organisms. In model membranes of phospholipids, stabler "s-phases" have recently been found to form at low temperatures. Antarctic endolithic organisms, living just under the surface of rocks, are exposed to long periods of low temperatures, and may develop such phases in their membranes. In the saturated phosphatidyl cholines, only lipids with a restricted range of acyl chain lengths show simultaneously s-phases and a main transition : This restricted range is about the restricted range found in natural membranes. The s-phases also form in the presence of natural cryoprotectants, and may be connected with botanical vernalization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization*
  • Animals
  • Antarctic Regions
  • Antifreeze Proteins
  • Cell Physiological Phenomena*
  • Cold Climate*
  • Cryoprotective Agents
  • Environmental Microbiology
  • Fishes
  • Glycoproteins / physiology
  • Membrane Fluidity / physiology*
  • Membrane Lipids / physiology
  • S Phase / physiology
  • Trehalose / physiology


  • Antifreeze Proteins
  • Cryoprotective Agents
  • Glycoproteins
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Trehalose