Cryobiology is the study of biological activity at low temperatures. Cryobiology can trace
its roots back to the early 1660s when Henry Power, a Fellow of the Royal
Society of London, froze vinegar eel-worms (tiny nematode worms that feed on the organisms causing fermentation in vinegar) overnight
to find that they were still alive when thawed the next day.
|Red algae (rhodophyta) on ice, Newcomb Bay, Antarctica.
Snow algae, like these, grow in semi-permanent to permanent snow or
ice in the alpine or polar regions of the world and have optimum growth
temperatures are generally below 10°C. They have successfully
adapted to their harsh environment through the development of a number
of features which include pigments, polyols (sugar alcohols, e.g.,
glycerine), sugars and lipids, mucilage sheaths, motile stages and
spore formation. Image: Australian Antarctic Division
In its modern form, cryobiology is interested in everything from finding
ways to improve the resistance of crops to cold weather to the ability of
organisms to survive in frigid extraterrestrial environments. A branch of
cryobiology known as cryonics seeks to preserve human organs (including
the brain) for resuscitation at some future date. A long-standing theme
of science fiction has been the possibility of putting human astronauts
in deep freeze (see sleeper ship) on
long space journeys.
• suspended animation