Antifreeze proteins (AFPs) facilitate the survival of diverse organisms in frigid environments by adsorbing to ice crystals and suppressing their growth. The rate of AFP accumulation on ice is determined by an interplay between AFP diffusion from the bulk solution to the ice-water interface and the subsequent adsorption of AFPs to the interface. To interrogate the relative importance of these two processes, here, we combine nonequilibrium fluorescence experiments with a reaction-diffusion model. We find that as diverse AFPs accumulate on ice, their concentration in the aqueous solution does not develop a gradient but remains equal to its bulk concentration throughout our experiments. These findings lead us to conclude that AFP accumulation on ice crystals, which are smaller than 100 μm in radius, is not limited by the diffusion of AFPs, but by the kinetics of AFP adsorption. Our results imply that mass transport limitations do not hinder AFPs from performing their biological function.
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