Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

True Grit: How Sea Urchins Carve Hiding Holes in Limestone

Date:
May 13, 2009
Source:
Weizmann Institute of Science
Summary:
Researchers have revealed a unique strategy evolved by sea urchins to keep their digging teeth sharp enough to carve out hiding holes in limestone.

Sea urchins dig themselves hiding holes in the limestone of the ocean floor using teeth that don’t go blunt. Weizmann Institute scientists have now revealed their secrets, which might give engineers insights into creating ever-sharp tools or mechanical parts.

The urchins dig holes to fit their globular bodies using their five teeth, which, like those of rodents, are ground down at the tip but continue to grow on the other end throughout the animals’ lives. The amazing part, however, is that the teeth, which need to be harder and stronger than the rocky limestone being dug out, are themselves made almost entirely of calcite – the same calcite that makes up much of the limestone.

How is this possible? In a series of studies spanning more than a decade, Profs. Steve Weiner and Lia Addadi of Weizmann’s Structural Biology Department have discovered that the urchins’ secret lies in a combination of ingenious design strategies. The latest of these studies, conduc ted with postdoctoral fellow Yurong Ma and graduate student Yael Politi and in collaboration with Prof. Pupa Gilbert and Dr. Rebecca Metzler of the University of Wisconsin, Drs. Barbara Aichmayer, Oskar Paris and Peter Fratzl from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Germany, and Dr. Anders Meibom from Museum National D’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France, was reported recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), USA.

The scientists found that the sea urchins’ teeth contain crystals of magnesium calcite, which are smaller, harder and denser than those of pure calcite; they are concentrated at the grinding tip of the tooth, particularly in the tip’s center, where the most force is being exerted in the course of grinding. What holds these crystals at the center of the tip is a matrix of larger and softer calcite crystals. While in most such materials a matrix of hard fibers contains a softer filling, the reverse is true for the urchins’ tooth: a matrix of relatively soft calcite fibers holds the harder magnesium calcite crystals, which allows these crystals to spread over the entire surface of the tooth. The presence of magnesium calcite crystals acts like sand paper that helps to grind the rock down.

In the latest study, the researchers used X-ray photoelectron emission spectromicroscopy and other high-resolution imaging methods to uncover yet another amazing structural feature of sea urchin tooth design. They found that all the crystalline elements that make up the tooth are aligned in two different arrays, and that these arrays are ‘interdigitated,’ or interlocked like the fingers of folded hands, just at the tip of the tooth where most of the wear occurs. The scientists believe that interlocking produces a notched, serrated ridge resembling that of a carpenter’s file. This ridge is self-sharpening: as the tooth is being ground down, the crystalline layers break in such a way that the ridge always stays corrugated.  

Prof. Lia Addadi’s research is supported by the Clore Center for Biological Physics; the Ilse Katz Institute for Material Sciences and Magnetic Resonance Research; the Helen and Martin Kimmel Center for Nanoscale Science; the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly; and the Carolito Stiftung. Prof. Addadi is the incumbent of the Dorothy and Patrick Gorman Professorial Chair.

Prof. Stephen Weiner’s research is supported by the Kekst Family Center for Medical Genetics; the Helen and Martin Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science; the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly; and the estate of George Schwartzman. Prof. Weiner is the incumbent of the Dr. Walter and Dr. Trude Borchardt Professorial Chair in Structural Biology.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Weizmann Institute of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ma et al. The grinding tip of the sea urchin tooth exhibits exquisite control over calcite crystal orientation and Mg distribution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009; 106 (15): 6048 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0810300106

Cite This Page:

Weizmann Institute of Science. "True Grit: How Sea Urchins Carve Hiding Holes in Limestone." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 May 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090504094304.htm>.
Weizmann Institute of Science. (2009, May 13). True Grit: How Sea Urchins Carve Hiding Holes in Limestone. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090504094304.htm
Weizmann Institute of Science. "True Grit: How Sea Urchins Carve Hiding Holes in Limestone." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090504094304.htm (accessed August 21, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) — An experimental drug used to treat Marburg virus in rhesus monkeys could give new insight into a similar treatment for Ebola. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) — According to a new study, spiders that live in cities are bigger, fatter and multiply faster. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
California Drought Stings Honeybees, Beekeepers

California Drought Stings Honeybees, Beekeepers

AP (Aug. 21, 2014) — California's record drought is hurting honey supplies and raising prices for consumers. The lack of rainfall means fewer crops and wildflowers that provide the nectar bees need to make honey. (Aug. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Possible Ebola Patient in Isolation at California Hospital

Possible Ebola Patient in Isolation at California Hospital

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 20, 2014) — A patient who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus is in isolation at the Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins