Physical Chemistry

How Do Size and Aggregation of Ice-binding Proteins Control their Ice Nucleation Efficiency

Valeria Molinero The University of Utah


Organisms that thrive at cold temperatures produce ice-binding proteins to manage the nucleation and growth of ice. Bacterial ice-nucleating proteins (INP) are typically large and form aggregates in the cell membrane, while insect hyperactive antifreeze proteins (AFP) are soluble and generally small. Experiments indicate that larger ice-binding proteins and their aggregates nucleate ice at warmer temperatures. Nevertheless, a quantitative understanding of how do size and aggregation of ice-binding proteins determine the temperature Thet at which proteins nucleate ice is still lacking. Here we address this question using molecular simulations and nucleation theory. The simulations indicate that the 2.5 nm long antifreeze protein TmAFP nucleates ice at 2±1 °C above the homogeneous nucleation temperature, in good agreement with recent experiments. We predict that the addition of ice-binding loops to TmAFP increases Thet until the length of the binding-site becomes ~4 times its width, beyond which Thet plateaus. We implement an accurate procedure to determine Thet of surfaces of finite size using classical nucleation theory and, after validating the theory against Thet of the proteins in molecular simulations, we use it to predict Thet of the INP of Ps. syringae as a function of the length and number of proteins in the aggregates. We conclude that assemblies with at most 34 INP already reach the Thet = -2 °C characteristic of this bacterium. Interestingly, we find that Thet is a strongly varying non-monotonic function of the distance between proteins in the aggregates. This indicates that to achieve maximum freezing efficiency, bacteria must exert exquisite, sub-angstrom control of the distance between INP in their membrane

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2nd version - updated April 9 2019


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