An accidental discovery of three new types of non-crystalline ice could lead to improved cryopreservation.

Under normal conditions on Earth, ice usually forms with a crystalline structure that ruptures cells and damages tissues. Crystal formation is therefore one of the biggest problems facing cryonics organizations, which currently work around freezing by using toxic cryoprotectants.

Non-crystalline ice, also called amorphous ice, doesn’t damage cells upon formation.

A joint Canadian-US team that included researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, National Research Council of Canada and University of Guelph discovered new forms of this ice unexpectedly while studying another form. They reported their results in yesterday’s issue of the journal Science.

While amorphous ice exists in space, such as in comets, it exists only in research laboratories on Earth, as it takes tremendous pressure and extremely low temperatures to produce.

Scientists produce it by taking regular ice and subjecting it to 13,000 times atmospheric pressure and temperatures of -196 degrees Celsius.

The high pressure required to make the ice makes the process difficult to apply in cryonics laboratories, but the researchers believe their findings could ultimately lead to improved preservation of organs and embryos and insight into reducing cellular damage during cryopreservation.