How do microorganisms grow in low temperature?
In supercooled solutions of H2O as low as -20 degrees, certain organisms can extract water for growth, and many forms of life flourish in the icy waters of the Antarctic, as well as household refrigerators, near 0 degrees. The cold-loving organisms are psychrophiles defined by their ability to grow at 0 degrees. A variant of a psychrophile (which usually has an optimum T of 10-15 degrees) is a psychrotroph, which grows at 0 degrees but displays an optimum T in the mesophile range, nearer room temperature. Psychrotrophs are the scourge of food storage in refrigerators since they are invariably brought in from their mesophilic habitats and continue to grow in the refrigerated environment where they spoil the food. Of course, they grow slower at 2 degrees than at 25 degrees. Think how fast milk spoils on the counter top versus in the refrigerator.
Psychrophilic bacteria are adapted to their cool environment by having largely unsaturated fatty acids in their plasma membranes. Some psychrophiles, particularly those from the Antarctic have been found to contain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which generally do not occur in procaryotes. The degree of unsaturation of a fatty acid correlates with its solidification T or thermal transition stage (i.e., the temperature at which the lipid melts or solidifies); unsaturated fatty acids remain liquid at low T but are also denatured at moderate T; saturated fatty acids, as in the membranes of thermophilic bacteria, are stable at high temperatures, but they also solidify at relatively high T. Thus, saturated fatty acids (like butter) are solid at room temperature while unsaturated fatty acids (like safflower oil) remain liquid in the refrigerator. Whether fatty acids in a membrane are in a liquid or a solid phase affects the fluidity of the membrane, which directly affects its ability to function.