Nature provides clues about how biomaterials can be preserved. For example, fungal spores provide an ideal model-system with which to study how organic materials survive in extreme environmental conditions. One survival tool is the production of trehalose, a glass-forming disaccharide synthesised by organisms, which allows the bio-material to pass into a state of suspended animation called ‘cryptobiosis.’

Neutron scattering at ISIS has provided an explanation for the effectiveness of trehalose in cryptobiosis [Magazù et al., Food Chemistry (2008) 106 1460]. In the experiments, the molecular motion of water treated with trehalose at 50 °C was seen to be almost identical to that of frozen water. Trehalose effectively locks water into the biomaterial, prevents diffusion and enhances stability.

Future applications for trehalose include the cryopreservation of human platelets and oocytes, conservation of vaccines, and drug development for neuro-degenerative diseases and antiviral drugs.