Cold environments represent a substantial volume of the biosphere. To study developmental physiology in subzero seawater temperatures typically found in the Southern Ocean, rates and costs of protein synthesis were measured in embryos and larvae of Sterechinus neumayeri, the Antarctic sea urchin. Our analysis of the "cost of living" in extreme cold for this species shows (1) that cost of protein synthesis is strikingly low during development, at 0.41 +/- 0.05 J (mg protein synthesized)(-1) (n = 16); (2) that synthesis cost is fixed and independent of synthesis rate; and (3) that a low synthesis cost permits high rates of protein turnover at -1 degrees C, at rates comparable to those of temperate species of sea urchin embryos developing at 15 degrees C. With a low synthesis cost, even at the highest synthesis rates measured (gastrulae), the proportion of total metabolism accounted for by protein synthesis in the Antarctic sea urchin was 54%-a value similar to that of temperate sea urchin embryos. In the Antarctic sea urchin, up to 87% of metabolic rate can be accounted for by the combined energy costs of protein synthesis and the sodium pump. We conclude that, in Antarctic sea urchin embryos, high rates of protein synthesis can be supported in extreme-cold environments while still maintaining low rates of respiration.