SASKATOON -- Researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. have more understanding on what it is inside certain creatures that keeps them alive in freezing temperatures.

Professor Peter Davies said they have been studying snow fleas and have identified what they call “antifreeze” proteins, which bond to ice crystals to keep them from growing and stopping circulation.

“As we’ve looked at these organisms we’ve realized there’s a great variety of different structures and they all bind to ice and stop ice crystals from growing,” said Davies.

“For a fish that is going to swim into sea water that is colder than its freezing point, then they’re absolutely critical to stop these ice crystals from growing and blocking their circulation.”

When Davies began the research he put a call out to others in his field all around the world to help gather snow fleas - and an answer came in all the way from Japan.

“He managed with his wife to collect a few grams of these snow fleas and sent them to us, that’s a lot of work because they are only one millimetre long, so it takes a long time to collect even on gram.”

Once the research began they needed access to equipment at the Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon. Davies used the CLS equipment remotely.

“They will place the pucks that have these crystals in it in front of a robot and you can actually, from here in Kingston, you can control the robot to pick up the crystal and put it in the X-ray crystal beam.

“We’re really grateful for the people in Saskatoon because they are the ones who maintain the equipment, and they maintain the robot, and they put the pucks in front of the robot and put them back in the freezer. It’s a good team.”

Kathryn Janzen, a user experience coordinator at the CLS, said that it has been doing remote research for nearly 10 years.

When the pandemic hit they were already prepared to keep working in a physically distanced environment.

Janzen said the CLS has helped researchers across the country and around the world with their work.

“It’s really interesting to read about and find out what our researchers are doing with the studies because they can have such interesting implications, especially in our field which is health,” Janzen said.

“We’ve had researchers studying proteins that are involved with HIV, malaria, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, tuberculosis, the list goes on and on. Of course in the past year we have researchers working on COVID related experiments as well.”

Davies said the next step is to figure out how to engineer the protein to grow it and make it more effective.