What does your favorite bowl of ice cream have to do with the fish that call water beneath the Antarctic ice their home? These strange fish have stumped scientists for years—how are they thriving in sub-zero temperature waters without freezing solid?! Well, today, we meet the researchers who have dedicated years to uncovering their clever trick, and you’ll never be able to dive into a pint of ice cream the same again!

In this edition of Saturdays Around the World, we’re heading to a place that fewer people have gone to than outer space: under Antarctica’s ice!

Image: young icefish in the Notothenioidei suborder

Young icefish
Source: Wikipedia

In an environment that would freeze most other fish solid within a matter of seconds, how are Antarctic fish thriving?

Fish in the Notothenioidei and Liparidae families have managed to develop a unique trick: their bodies have the ability to stop the growth of ice inside of them! But how does this happen?! What’s really going on here?

To bring us close to the action and have it all explained in terms we can understand, PBS Terra dove in. They met some fish, spoke to the researchers who cracked the case, and met three of the less than 400 divers who have experienced the alien-like world beneath the ice.

Take a look!

The debut of PBS Terra has been an awesome series called NOVA’s Antarctic Extremes! It’s a wild look into one of the most pristine places left on our planet. Head over to their channel to check it out!

Alright, curious about that ice cream?

Ever wondered how ice cream makers are pulling off that “light” ice cream? The ones where you can eat a whole pint for 300 calories? Or even that super creamy one! How’d they get it so smooth?!

Well, you see, the proteins from those fish who can survive in extreme cold have been replicated in labs and used in some of the most well-known ice cream brands out there looking to make their ice cream creamier. In the same way that the protein halts ice growth in those fish is the same that will stop it from forming in your ice cream! Because big ice crystals (like the ones that form after your ice cream has melted a bit and refroze in the carton) in your sweet treat equals a crunchier, waterier, and not so delightful time.

The company Unilever “currently owns a patent to use this ice-structuring protein in food items, so they are starting to pop up in low-fat ice cream and slow melt popsicles,” says Squint Science in their video below. Give it a watch to learn how fish in your ice cream can be a good thing!

You can find more wonderful videos from Squint Science over on their YouTube channel! Stumbling upon these creators has been a delight. I hope you enjoy their content as much as I have!

So, how about that? Who knew that the swimming popsicles of the polar region could make the ones of our summers so much better!

While on a quest to better understand frigid fish, our curiosity was rewarded with a way to make tasty treats even more incredible! Better yet, no fish have to be harmed to make your ice cream! Food scientists were able to study the protein and recreate it in a lab, instead of extracting it directly from the fish! 3

Being rewarded for looking closely at what the creatures around us are up to isn’t a novel thing. It happens constantly! We have a lot to thank nature for, and good ice cream is just the tip of the iceberg.

As scientists, researchers, and explorers dive deeper into these alien regions of our own planet, what else will they discover? Could fish make beer better? Cheese? Your favorite dessert? (A nice chocolate mousse, maybe?)

Check out this circle of articles to see how we’ve been teaming up with all sorts of creatures, from the fruit fly, dogs, and even birds of prey! One of those creatures could very well save your life one day.

The Remarkable Ways We’re Teaming up with Nature!

We can find remarkable progress when we put our focus on teaming up with nature! From leaps in sustainable farming and transportation, pest prevention and healthcare, explore this circle to discover the awesome partnerships we've already created.

Read More

Dive into any of those articles and you’ll start experiencing more wonder and awe in your life. You owe it to yourself (and your loved ones) to enjoy the best of our world, and seeing how the creatures around us impact our lives is a welcoming start.

You need but only look under your bed to find a whole galaxy of wonder!

Stay open to new possibilities!

  • Sam

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  1. Terra, PBS. “Why Don’t Fish Freeze in Antarctica? I Antarctic Extremes.” YouTube, 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzL8D1AtyQs. Accessed 23 June 2020.
  2. Squint Science. “Why’s There FISH in My Ice Cream?? || Antifreeze Protein.” YouTube, 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjhFStWLFEY. Accessed 23 June 2020.
  3. “Creamy, Healthier Ice Cream? What’s the Catch?” The New York Times, 25 July 2006, www.nytimes.com/2006/07/26/dining/26cream.html. Accessed 23 June 2020.

Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and taster of cheeses.