Ice-binding proteins (IBPs) bind to ice crystals and control their structure, enlargement, and melting, thereby helping their host organisms to avoid injuries associated with ice growth. IBPs are useful in applications where ice growth control is necessary, such as cryopreservation, food storage, and anti-icing. The study of an IBP's mechanism of action is limited by the technological difficulties of in situ observations of molecules at the dynamic interface between ice and water. We describe herein a new, to our knowledge, apparatus designed to generate a controlled temperature gradient in a microfluidic chip, called a microfluidic cold finger (MCF). This device allows growth of a stable ice crystal that can be easily manipulated with or without IBPs in solution. Using the MCF, we show that the fluorescence signal of IBPs conjugated to green fluorescent protein is reduced upon freezing and recovers at melting. This finding strengthens the evidence for irreversible binding of IBPs to their ligand, ice. We also used the MCF to demonstrate the basal-plane affinity of several IBPs, including a recently described IBP from Rhagium inquisitor. Use of the MCF device, along with a temperature-controlled setup, provides a relatively simple and robust technique that can be widely used for further analysis of materials at the ice/water interface.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the European Research Council, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Condensed Matter and Surface Science Program at Ohio University, and the Biomimetic Nanoscience and Nanoscale Technology Initiative at Ohio University.