Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Creating Cultured Pearls From The Queen Conch: Scientists Unlock Mystery

Date:
November 5, 2009
Source:
Florida Atlantic University
Summary:
In their natural form, conch pearls are among the rarest pearls in the world. For more than 25 years, all attempts at culturing pearls from the queen conch have been unsuccessful -- until now. For the first time, novel and proprietary seeding techniques to produce beaded and non-beaded high-quality cultured pearls from the queen conch have been developed by scientists.

The queen conch is the largest molluscan gastropod of the six conch species found in the shallow seagrass beds of Florida, the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Caribbean Islands and the northern coasts of Central and South America.
Credit: FAU's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute

For more than 25 years, all attempts at culturing pearls from the queen conch (Strombus gigas) have been unsuccessful -- until now. For the first time, novel and proprietary seeding techniques to produce beaded (nucleated) and non-beaded cultured pearls from the queen conch have been developed by scientists from Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI).

With less than two years of research and experimentation, Drs. Héctor Acosta-Salmón and Megan Davis, co-inventors, have produced more than 200 cultured pearls using the techniques they developed. Prior to this breakthrough, no high-quality queen conch pearl had been cultured. This discovery opens up a unique opportunity to introduce a new gem to the industry. This significant accomplishment is comparable to that of the Japanese in the 1920s when they commercially applied the original pearl culture techniques developed for pearl oysters.

HBOI has been working with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to conduct extensive laboratory testing of the queen conch cultured pearls. In its independent analysis, GIA used techniques that included conventional gemological examination, chemical composition, spectroscopy, spectrometry and microscopy. HBOI and GIA plan to jointly publish the results of these trials in an upcoming issue of GIA's scientific journal, Gems & Gemology.

"This is a significant development for the pearl industry, and we were very excited to have the opportunity to closely examine these unique conch cultured pearls in our laboratory," said Tom Moses, senior vice president of the GIA Laboratory and Research. "Several of the pearls we examined are truly top-quality gems. With the equipment and expertise available at the GIA Laboratory, identification criteria are being compiled to separate queen conch cultured pearls from their natural counterparts."

Previous efforts to culture queen conch pearls were unsuccessful, probably because of the animal's sensitivity to traditional pearl seeding techniques and its complex shell. The spiral shape of the shell makes it virtually impossible to reach the gonad, one of the pearl-forming portions in pearl oysters, without endangering the animal's life.

"Perhaps the most significant outcome from our research is that the technique we have developed does not require sacrificing the conch in the process," said Davis. "The 100 percent survival rate of queen conch after seeding and the fact that it will produce another pearl after the first pearl is harvested will make this culturing process more efficient and environmentally sustainable for commercial application."

Survival of the animal is critical because commercial fishing has depleted the once-abundant wild populations of queen conch, and they are now considered a commercially threatened species in Florida and throughout the Caribbean.

There are basically two types of cultured pearls: nucleated (beaded) and non-nucleated (non-beaded). Nucleated cultured pearls are produced by inserting a piece of mantle tissue from a donor mollusk and a nucleus, usually a spherical piece of shell, into the body of a recipient mollusk. Non-nucleated pearls are produced by grafting only a piece or pieces of mantle tissue, and no bead is inserted.

"We used two different seeding techniques to induce pearl formation in the queen conch," said Acosta-Salmón. "One was a modification of the conventional technique used to produce cultured pearls in freshwater mussels, and the other was a modification of the conventional technique used in marine pearl oysters."

Conch pearls are formed by concentric layers of fibrous crystals, and this layering often produces the desired flame structure, which is characteristic of conch pearls. The pearls have a porcelain finish and luster like the interior of the conch shell, and come in a wide variety and combination of colors including white, red, pink, orange, yellow and brown. Queen conch pearls are measured in carats like traditional gemstones.

The size of the cultured pearls produced by Acosta-Salmón and Davis is controlled by the size of the bead and the culture time. The researchers have experimented with culture times from six months to two years; longer culture times may produce larger pearls. The queen conch is farmed in aquaculture tanks, and the queen conch cultured pearls in the initial harvest were grown in an aquaculture facility at HBOI. Queen conch achieve full size at about three years and have a life span of up to 40 years.

The queen conch is the largest molluscan gastropod of the six conch species found in the shallow seagrass beds of Florida, the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Caribbean Islands, and the northern coasts of Central and South America.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Florida Atlantic University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Florida Atlantic University. "Creating Cultured Pearls From The Queen Conch: Scientists Unlock Mystery." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 November 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091104000927.htm>.
Florida Atlantic University. (2009, November 5). Creating Cultured Pearls From The Queen Conch: Scientists Unlock Mystery. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091104000927.htm
Florida Atlantic University. "Creating Cultured Pearls From The Queen Conch: Scientists Unlock Mystery." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091104000927.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

AP (July 28, 2014) — West African nations and international health organizations are working to contain the largest Ebola outbreak in history. It's one of the deadliest diseases known to man, but the CDC says it's unlikely to spread in the U.S. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

AP (July 28, 2014) — Classes are being offered nationwide to encourage African Americans to learn about cooking fresh foods based on traditional African cuisine. The program is trying to combat obesity, heart disease and other ailments often linked to diet. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) — The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

AP (July 27, 2014) — A live-streaming webcam catches loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest in the Florida Keys. (July 27) Video provided by AP
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