Ice Recrystallization Inhibiting Polymers Enable Glycerol-Free Cryopreservation of Microorganisms

Muhammad Hasan, Alice E. R. Fayter, Matthew I. Gibson

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All modern molecular biology and microbiology is underpinned by not only the tools to handle and manipulate microorganisms but also those to store, bank, and transport them. Glycerol is the current gold-standard cryoprotectant, but it is intrinsically toxic to most microorganisms: only a fraction of cells survive freezing and the presence of glycerol can impact downstream applications and assays. Extremophile organisms survive repeated freeze/thaw cycles by producing antifreeze proteins which are potent ice recrystallization inhibitors. Here we introduce a new concept for the storage/transport of microorganisms by using ice recrystallization inhibiting poly(vinyl alcohol) in tandem with poly(ethylene glycol). This cryopreserving formulation is shown to result in a 4-fold increase in E. coli yield post-thaw, compared to glycerol, utilizing lower concentrations, and successful cryopreservation shown as low as 1.1 wt % of additive. The mechanism of protection is demonstrated to be linked not only to inhibiting ice recrystallization (by comparison to a recombinant antifreeze protein) but also to the significantly lower toxicity of the polymers compared to glycerol. Optimized formulations are presented and shown to be broadly applicable to the cryopreservation of a panel of Gram-negative, Gram-positive, and mycobacteria strains. This represents a step-change in how microorganisms will be stored by the design of new macromolecular ice growth inhibitors; it should enable a transition from traditional solvent-based to macromolecular microbiology storage methods.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3371–3376
Number of pages6
Issue number8
Early online date22 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2018


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