Soon, you may be able to enjoy an ice cream cone without having to worry about sticky fingers. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Dundee have discovered that a naturally occurring protein, known as BslA, can be used to make melt-resistant ice cream, ABC News reports. BslA (or Bacterial Surface Layer A, as UPI notes), which is already used in some Asian dishes, is created by microbial communities as they seek to protect themselves; it "goes to the outer surface of this community and makes a film that we dubbed a bacterial raincoat—it becomes basically water repellent," research leader Cait MacPhee tells CBS News. The protein adheres to air bubbles and droplets of fat, stabilizing them, and in the process protecting the microbial community: "If there are any other bugs in the environment that want to attack our friendly bacteria, they can't get through because they bounce off," MacPhee says. And then there's the ice cream-related side effect.
Since the protein can protect and bind ice cream's three main ingredients (air, fat, and ice), "you should be able to eat an ice cream cone without the ice cream dribbling down the side" if it's used to make the frosty treat, says MacPhee, though, as the Washington Post notes, the ice cream does still get warm eventually. The team tested out the theory, replacing the emulsifier in a vanilla ice cream recipe with the protein, and found the resulting dessert did in fact melt more slowly. And, as the scientists note in a press release, there's an added bonus: "The protein binds together the air, fat, and water in ice cream, creating a super-smooth consistency"—which also means there won't be as many ice crystals formed in your ice cream if you leave it in the freezer too long. As for whether it's any good, the team didn't actually eat the creation—but since such a small amount of the protein is used, they don't think there will be any impact on the taste. When can you buy it? Researchers estimate it could be on sale within three to five years. (Click to see why ice cream parlors were once considered evil.)