Freezing to Un-Death

The idea that people could freeze themselves, hoping to stave off death and instead thaw sometime in the future, is at this point an element left to science fiction.  While some people have tried to freeze themselves (most notably, this list includes baseball great Ted Williams, and that reportedly went badly) so far, no one has thawed successfully.

The wood frog, pictured above, has found better luck.

Instead of migrating to warmer places or creating a warm place in which to hibernate locally, wood frogs just kind of blend in and let the outside environment take over.   When their surroundings freeze, so do the frogs.  When the frost thaws, so, again, do the frogs.  And wood frogs survive the process.

This isn’t something people can likely replicate (although it may have implication for the storage and transport of organs tabbed for transplantation).  When people are frozen, our cells fill with ice and frostbite takes over, killing cells.  Wood frogs have a few biological quirks which allow them to avoid this fate, according to National Geographic.

First, their skin freezes quickly, creating a hard barrier between the outside world and the frog’s internal organisms.  Next, the frogs have a special protein in their blood — Nat Geo calls it “antifreeze-like blood” — which causes the water in the blood to freeze first, effectively separating all the water out from the rest of the frog’s cells.  And finally, the frog’s liver starts to create high amounts of glucose, which allow the cells to self-embalm.  As scientist Kenneth Storey, a researcher in the field, told Nat Geo, “Inside the cells there’s no ice.  It’s just really, really, really dehydrated, all shrunk down osmotically and full of massive amounts of sugar.”

And in this candied state, the wood frog does a lot of nothing.  No breathing.  brain activity.  No heart beat.  Stasis.

Twenty to thirty minutes after thawing, the wood frog’s heart resumes.  It begins breathing soon thereafter, and finally, hops away as if it were never a frogsicle.

Bonus fact:  They say April showers bring May flowers, but early winter may bring frost flowers.  The phenomenon occurs when water seeps out of the cracks of plant stems, freezing as they hit the cold air outside the withering plant’s form.  The frozen water forms leaf-like shapes, collectively appearing to flower, as seen in this photo gallery.

From the Archives: Ice Capades: When lakes and canals freeze, it’s pandemonium in the Netherlands.

Related: A wood frog model which doubles as a drum.

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