Can frozen frogs improve human medicine? Premedicine major Dante Pezzutti thinks so. 

With funding from the 2017 American Physiological Society Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship, Pezzutti spent last summer researching Cope’s gray tree frog with Carissa Krane, professor of biology and Schuellein Chair in the Biological Sciences. His research examines the frog’s ability to withstand cold winters by converting up to 65 percent of its body fluids into ice. While frozen, the frog loses blood circulation, the ability to breathe, nerve conduction, brain activity and its heartbeat. 

“If you found the frog in the winter it would have icicles, it would be rock solid and look dead, but it’s not,” said Pezzutti. “It’s the frog’s way of surviving the cold. Then, come spring it thaws itself and resumes life. 

In the lab, Pezzutti is investigating a protein that may be involved in mediating the osmotic adjustments during the freezing and thawing process. He hopes developing a better understanding of how these proteins work in frogs could lead to breakthroughs in the preservation of human organs for transplant.

Pezzutti presented his research at the April 2018 Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology meeting — and was awarded the Barbara A. Horwitz and John M. Horowitz Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award, the most prestigious undergraduate research award offered by the society.