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Biology 2013, 2(2), 719-741; doi:10.3390/biology2020719
Psychrophily and Catalysis
Received: 12 December 2012 / Revised: 18 March 2013 / Accepted: 18 March 2013 / Published: 16 April 2013
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Polar Microbiology: Recent Advances and Future Perspectives)
Abstract: Polar and other low temperature environments are characterized by a low content in energy and this factor has a strong incidence on living organisms which populate these rather common habitats. Indeed, low temperatures have a negative effect on ectothermic populations since they can affect their growth, reaction rates of biochemical reactions, membrane permeability, diffusion rates, action potentials, protein folding, nucleic acids dynamics and other temperature-dependent biochemical processes. Since the discovery that these ecosystems, contrary to what was initially expected, sustain a rather high density and broad diversity of living organisms, increasing efforts have been dedicated to the understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in their successful adaptation to apparently unfavorable physical conditions. The first question that comes to mind is: How do these organisms compensate for the exponential decrease of reaction rate when temperature is lowered? As most of the chemical reactions that occur in living organisms are catalyzed by enzymes, the kinetic and thermodynamic properties of cold-adapted enzymes have been investigated. Presently, many crystallographic structures of these enzymes have been elucidated and allowed for a rather clear view of their adaptation to cold. They are characterized by a high specific activity at low and moderate temperatures and a rather low thermal stability, which induces a high flexibility that prevents the freezing effect of low temperatures on structure dynamics. These enzymes also display a low activation enthalpy that renders them less dependent on temperature fluctuations. This is accompanied by a larger negative value of the activation entropy, thus giving evidence of a more disordered ground state. Appropriate folding kinetics is apparently secured through a large expression of trigger factors and peptidyl–prolyl cis/trans-isomerases.
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