‘Wandering Meatloaf’ Mollusk Has Teeth Made From Mineral Seen Only Before In Rocks
A rare type of iron mineral has been discovered within a living organism for the first time.
A mollusk may look like the most stone-like living organism possible, but it is helping link the biological and geological world. A study has found that a rare iron mineral, called santabarbaraite, has been found in the teeth of cryptochiton stelleri, which is affectionately called the ‘wandering meatloaf’ mollusk.
Previously, santabarbaraite had only been found in small quantities in a geological context, but researchers at Northwestern University, Illinois, managed to find it in the biological world. They did this by using spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy.
By beaming electrons into a specimen to form an image, the researchers found iron minerals inside the roots of cryptochiton stelleri teeth. The mineral had a high water content, enabling it to be strong while having a low density. The study’s senior author and associate professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University, Derek Joester, noted that this ‘might toughen the teeth without adding a lot of weight’.
Joester also explained exactly where the material was found:
The stylus is like the root of a human tooth, which connects the cusp of our tooth to our jaw. It’s a tough material composed of extremely small nanoparticles in a fibrous matrix made of biomacromolecules, similar to bones in our body.
This biological discovery could now have engineering applications, and has given insight after a significant amount of research.
Joester noted the time spent on this research and its possible outcomes:
We’ve been fascinated by the chiton [wandering meatloaf] for a long time.
Mechanical structures are only as good as their weakest link, so it’s interesting to learn how the chiton solves the engineering problem of how to connect its ultrahard tooth to a soft underlying structure.
This remains a significant challenge in modern manufacturing, so we look to organisms like the chiton to understand how this is done in nature, which has had a couple hundred million years of lead time to develop.
On the back of these findings, researchers have now recreated this material in an ink designed for 3D printing as they continue to investigate uses for the chiton’s stylus.
The full research paper on this discovery will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences later this week.
Featured Image Credit: Northwestern University
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