Dr. Toshiko Ichiye

The Biophysics of Life (and Death) Under Pressure

Pressure, in contrast to temperature, is an underappreciated thermodynamic variable especially in biology. Recently, life has been found at tremendous pressures, about one thousand times of atmospheric pressure, in newly possible explorations, both deep in the ocean and beneath the continental crust. In addition, high-pressure processing of foods to kill microbes is becoming increasingly popular because taste, texture, color, and nutritional value can be maintained without chemical preservatives. At a molecular level, this leads to questions of how the macromolecules making up the organisms maintain their functional state under pressure, and how they can be destroyed by pressure. Here, the effects of pressure on the structure and function of enzymes from mesophiles and “piezophiles” are examined by molecular dynamics computer simulations.