Biophysics of life under extreme conditions
Cryptobiosis refers to a particular state of organisms where hidden levels of metabolic functions are maintained for mending prohibitive environmental conditions. Many extremophiles overproduce specific molecules as part of a tissue preservation strategy showing how Nature, with its adaptation strategies, provides precious suggestions for innovative methodologies to be applied for improving the quality of life. Natural molecules, such as trehalose and its homologues, have recently received a growing attention both from the scientific and applicative points of view not only to their effectiveness as bioprotectant systems, which make them unique candidates in the cosmetic and the pharmaceutical fields, but also to their complex nature of polyamorphic glass-forming systems. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain why trehalose is particularly effective as bioprotectant pointing out that the understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying its effectiveness requires theoretical and experimental unconventional approaches based on the combined employment of techniques that are not traditionally used in the cosmetics and pharmaceutics research. It emerges that some of the cryptic secrets of trehalose lie in the etymology of cryptos, from Greek kriptos, which means both “hidden” and “coated”; in fact, cryptos makes reference to the “hidden” life of cryptobiosis and to “coated” i. e. the capability to encapsulate the biostructures to protect, creating a shell characterized by a “cryptocrystallinity” namely to a nanoscopic crystalline structure which is responsible for the higher structural resistance.
The huge economic impact of this research is based on the transfer of knowledge to cosmetics and pharmaceutics industries for developing new formulations and technologies.