Soft biomimetic nanoconfinement promotes amorphous water over ice

Water is a ubiquitous liquid with unique physicochemical properties, whose nature has shaped our planet and life as we know it. Water in restricted geometries has different properties than in bulk. Confinement can prevent low-temperature crystalliza- tion of the molecules into a hexagonal structure and thus create a state of amorphous water. To understand the survival of life at subzero temperatures, it is essential to elucidate this behaviour in the presence of nanoconfining lipidic membranes. Here we introduce a family of synthetic lipids with designed cyclopropyl modifications in the hydrophobic chains that exhibit unique liquid-crystalline behaviour at low temperature, which enables the maintenance of amorphous water down to ~10 K due to nano- confinement. The combination of experiments and molecular dynamics simulations unveils a complex lipid–water phase dia- gram in which bicontinuous cubic and lamellar liquid crystalline phases that contain subzero liquid, glassy or ice water emerge as a competition between the two components, each pushing towards its thermodynamically favoured state.