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Electrostatics Trigger Interfacial Self-Assembly of Bacterial Ice Nucleators

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Ice active bacteria can catalyze water freezing at high subzero temperatures using ice nucleating proteins (INPs) located at their outer cell walls. INPs are the most effective ice nucleators known and are of significant interest for agriculture, climate research, and freeze/antifreeze technologies. The aggregation of INPs into large ice nucleation sites is a key step for effective ice nucleation. It has been proposed that ice active bacteria can drive the aggregation of INPs and thereby trigger ice nucleation. However, the mechanism of INP aggregate assembly and the molecular processes behind the activation are still unclear. Both biochemical pathways and activation through electrostatics have been proposed based on experiments with lysed ice active bacteria. For a more direct view on the assembly of INPs, we follow the structure and water interactions of a synthetic model INP of the well-studied ice bacterium Pseudomonas syringae at the air-water interface as a function of the subphase pH. By combining sum frequency generation spectroscopy with two-dimensional infrared spectra, we conclude that self-assembly and electrostatic interactions drive the formation of ordered INP structures capable of aligning interfacial water.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)505-512
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022

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