Finding inspiration from the organisms that learned to survive in Alaska’s icy environments

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By Amy Topkok

Konrad Meister is a chemistry and biochemistry faculty in biology at the University of Alaska Southeast – Juneau campus. He is a new University of Alaska Fairbanks Biomedical Learning and Student Training program (UAF BLaST) faculty pilot project awardee and has been in Alaska since January 2020. Meister is also the faculty mentor for Rosemary Eufemio, a BLaST Undergraduate Research Experience student awardee. She is from Kodiak, Alaska, and is of Hispanic and of South American heritage. Eufemio’s research focuses on investigating the presence and accumulation of microplastics in Littleneck Clams, a growing concern in Alaska because many Alaskan Natives and rural people collect their own clams in subsistence gathering.

Konrad Meister, Chemistry and Biochemistry Faculty

Meister first met Eufemio in his spring biochemistry class and recognized her enormous potential. Over the summer, she worked with Meister on a project on microplastics in salmon, in which they looked for the presence of microplastics in the guts and tissues of salmons. Being interested in the health of marine ecosystems, Eufemio then came up with the idea of studying clams, which are filter feeders and are likely the first in line to assemble microplastics and other contaminants.

During the fall 2020 semester, Eufemio was busy collecting specimens and attending online classes from Kodiak, due to COVID restrictions. Meister is looking forward to her return to UAS in the spring to start analyzing these samples and to present her results. Meister and Eufemio have been connecting regularly through online meetings, and Meister gives her guidance from afar on collecting specimens alone. “I really appreciate having Konrad’s guidance and mentorship as I work on my project,” Eufemio said.

Meister’s main research interest lies in the molecular tricks that organisms have developed to flourish under cold and icy as well as other extreme environments. His current work looks at the positive effects of antifreeze glycoproteins, derived from polar cod, on the cryopreservation of red blood cells. 

“I got really fascinated by the question, why won’t fish and insects freeze in extreme cold temperatures? In Antarctica for instance, water temperatures are down to 28 degrees Fahrenheit, which is very cold. I then learned that the key to their survival are unique proteins that can bind to ice crystals, thereby preventing the growth of those crystals, so they are not harming the organisms at all,” Meister said, explaining how he came to be interested in this research topic.

The harm of uncontrolled ice crystal growth and ice recrystallization can easily be seen in one of Meister’s favorite dishes: ice cream. “The first time we get a large package of ice cream, it is nice and creamy and not frozen. However, when we put it back into the freezer, the ice recrystallization occurs, changing the texture and effecting the taste. Antifreeze glycoproteins such as those derived from the polar cod can prevent this harmful effect of refreezing. This is not only relevant for the food industry but also has direct implications for the health sciences, where the proteins can be used for cryopreserving blood and other biological materials better. One important question that we currently work on at UAS is how to purify these extraordinary proteins with high efficiency,” Meister explained.

In addition to conducting his research, Meister mentors undergraduate students. He explained that while working in a mentoring relationship, “it is important to be flexible to people’s needs. We must be adaptive, and during COVID times each situation has to be handled independently and absolutely safely. In the end, it is through collaboration with others that we can solve the upcoming problems in the environment and in the Arctic. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” 

For Meister, collaboration and hard work have paid off in his own research career. “Working hard when growing up enabled me to fulfill my dream to be able to go to Antarctica. You can achieve everything, but you must also take the first steps and take initiative. Never be afraid of failing, talk to people, communicate and never stop asking questions,” he said. 

Meister’s experiences have allowed him to grow as a scientist as well as embracing “who he is,” especially in science. He has traveled to Antarctica four times, with the expeditions being 2 to 3 months long at both McMurdo and Palmer Stations. He said that his past work experiences also “made me realize that we are a small part of this world” and that is an amazing feeling, which he tries to impart to his mentees.

For more information about Konrad Meister’s research, visit, and he can be contacted at For a list of other BLaST faculty pilot projects, go to

The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
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