Nacre is not just something pretty to be used for jewellery and decoration. It possesses an intricate layer structure with high strength and hardness, and the naturally formed crystals it contains have some particular properties. This is why industry is working to produce similar materials using biological models.
Scientists in Haifa and Saarbrücken have now succeeded in replicating the combination of calcium carbonate and biopolymeric compounds which nature took millions of years and a host of environmental factors to achieve. Using a very simple method, they have been able to show that a single protein species is enough to produce specific effects on the formation of crystal structures.
The results of their research have recently been published as a cover publication in the journal Chemistry of Materials.
In nacre, layer lattices of inorganic calcium carbonate alternate with layers of organic material. Chitin, collagen and various proteins ensure that the calcium carbonate grows in these defined layers. What role the proteins play during growth had not previously been explained, but the assumption was that several proteins acted together to control the structure of the calcium carbonate lattice as well as themselves forming part of the nacreous layers.
However, Ingrid Weiss of the INM – Leibniz Institute for New Materials in Saarbrücken and her colleague Boaz Pokroy at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology have now shown that the crystal lattice of calcium carbonate can be altered using just a single protein species.
“This finding simplifies matters and opens up new possibilities for white biotechnology”, says Weiss, who is Head of the Biomineralization Program at the INM. “Until now, white biotechnology has labored under the idea that mineralization could not be recreated using biological models, because it was assumed that it took a combination of several proteins and a number of factors that were not readily understandable to make biomineralization possible”, she explains. If the natural processes appeared too complicated, they would not be pursued in industrial development.
Pokroy and Weiss have now proved that it need not be that complicated.
In their experiments, the researchers extracted the protein perlucin from abalone (Haliotis) shells and combined it with green fluorescent protein (GFP), a trick which enabled them to convert the insoluble perlucin to a water-soluble form. They added this solution at different concentrations to a calcium carbonate solution and examined the crystals produced. The results were compared to crystals produced from a pure calcium carbonate solution and crystals produced from a calcium carbonate solution with GFP.
Only the dissolved perlucin was incorporated in the inorganic carbonate lattice, where it produced notable and wide-ranging distortions to the lattice. The effect follows a principle of “all or nothing”: small quantities of protein are already enough to cause defined lattice distortions. Once the distortion starts, it then reproduces itself continually across the lattice. “GFP alone simply coexists with calcium carbonate – it surrounds the calcium carbonate lattice like a jacket without changing it”, explains the biomineralization expert. As in a shell, it seems to be the perlucin that influences the growth and structure of the crystal lattice.
To explain this phenomenon, the researchers used the INM’s expertise in mussel proteins and the expertise in crystal analysis at the Institute in Haifa. This combination made it possible to observe the reactions of perlucin in the crystal lattice. The scientists are now keen to see whether other proteins have specific effects on the structure and functionality of inorganic crystal lattices.
Eva Weber, Leonid Bloch, Christina Guth, Andy N. Fitch, Ingrid M. Weiss and Boaz Pokroy; Chem. Mater., 2014, 26 (17), pp 4925–4932,
DOI: 10.1021/cm500450s; http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/cm500450s
Dr. Ingrid Weiss (PD)
INM – Leibniz Institute for New Materials
Prof. Boaz Pokroy
Technion – Israel Institute of Technology; Haifa
Bio-Inspired Surface Engineering and Biomineralization
INM conducts research and development to create new materials – for today, tomorrow and beyond. Chemists, physicists, biologists, materials scientists and engineers team up to focus on these essential questions: Which material properties are new, how can they be investigated and how can they be tailored for industrial applications in the future? Four research thrusts determine the current developments at INM: New materials for energy application, new concepts for medical surfaces, new surface materials for tribological systems and nano safety and nano bio. Research at INM is performed in three fields: Nanocomposite Technology, Interface Materials, and Bio Interfaces.
INM – Leibniz Institute for New Materials, situated in Saarbrücken, is an internationally leading centre for materials research. It is an institute of the Leibniz Association and has about 195 employees.
Dr. Carola Jung | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Glass's off-kilter harmonies
18.01.2017 | University of Texas at Austin, Texas Advanced Computing Center
Explaining how 2-D materials break at the atomic level
18.01.2017 | Institute for Basic Science
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
18.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
18.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
18.01.2017 | Life Sciences