Image Source – Cold-tolerant Wood Frog
Wood frogs (Rana sylvatica) are found in the northern parts of North America where the temperature can get very cold. When the wood frog experiences chilly conditions, a chemical signal is sent through it’s boy which prepares the frog to be frozen. The frog can remain frozen solid for the whole winter. The frog’s heart stops beating during this time also. It feels rock hard and looks dead but is not. When the weather starts to get warmer in the spring, the frog thaws out just in time for mating season. The frog can stay frozen without dying because of the way it stores glucose, which lowers the freezing point of water. The frog is able to build up the concentration of glucose in it’s cells, so that the cytoplasm doesn’t freeze, even when the interstitial water freezes. Two-thirds of the water in the frog’s body can freeze into ice crystals.
(Student post from an article in “Scientriffic” by Priyanka Shewpersad)
Image Source – Winter vegetable garden
Winter vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussel sprouts, are also frost-tolerant. These plants have genes that allow “antifreeze proteins” to be produced, which prevent the plant cells from being damaged by frost.
What’s beetroot got to do with cell biology? Well, today we did a practical experiment to investigate the effect of temperature on the plasma membrane of beetroot tissue. Why beetroot? Because it is relatively easy to identify the amount of damage to cell membranes by observing the pigment leakage from the tissue. We used four 5mm x 15mm cylinders of beetroot and four different treatments – room temperature (control), freezing overnight, 50 degrees Celcius and 70 degrees Celcius for 2 minutes each. Then each sample was placed in a test tube with 5 ml of water. What did our results show?
One of the questions in this practical asks why some people put hessian bags over their garden plants in winter and how some plants can survive freezing temperatures. Hessian bags can help to insulate plants against the effects of freezing – some wineries use large fans to keep air circulating over their crops for the same reason. Some plants are genetically more tolerant of frost. This article, from the CSIRO, describes how some plants can empty water out of the cell into the extracellular spaces, where the water can form ice without damaging the cell membrane. Another method is increasing solute concentration, for example by storing monosacharides in place of disacharides, which effectively lowers the freezing point of the cell contents. This is a bit like using anti-freeze in the car radiator during winter.
Revision questions (with answers!) for cell membranes at Biology-Questions-and-Answers.