A new finding in experiments studying the dry preservation of living cells — a potentially revolutionary alternative to cryopreservation – has defined a clear limit where continuing dehydration kills cells. The data, combined with molecular dynamics simulations, provides insight into an important processing factor that has limited recent attempts at dry preservation.
“What we have done is identified what appears to be a materials constraint in our method of dry preservation. I think this new understanding suggests some interesting avenues to pursue in developing a successful process,” said Gloria Elliott, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, one of the study’s authors.
The findings, reported in the July 8 issue of Scientific Reports, analyzes changes in the molecular arrangements of trehalose (a sugar) and water molecules during a typical dehydration process that they use to immobilize cells in a stable trehalose glass for long-term storage.
The dry preservation of cells is a potentially revolutionary biotechnology that would offer some key advantages over current cryopreservation methods that require maintenance at extremely low temperatures. Because dry preservation might allow the maintenance of material at normal ambient temperatures, dry preserved cells would be more cost effective to store and easier to transport and thus might allow far more material to be banked and available for use.
The preservation method that Elliot’s research team is investigating involves suspending cells in a dilute trehalose solution, and then concentrating it by removing the water with a gentle microwave-assisted heating process so that a trehalose glass forms, immobilizing biological molecules, similar to freezing. The technique is suggested by various organisms in nature, such as brine shrimp and tardigrades (“water bears”), that synthesize sugars in response to environmental stress and have been known to survive stasis for many years in a desiccated state.
“People have …