Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Material bones up


Molecular scaffolding makes for good bone structure.

Programmed molecules build themselves into a bone-mimic.

Scientists in the United States have made self-assembling synthetic bone1. Carefully designed building-blocks join up to mimic bone’s complex molecular-scale architecture, bringing better prosthetics a step closer.

Materials engineers are keen to emulate the strength and toughness of biominerals such as bone, tooth and shell. Mollusc shells, for example, a composite of the mineral calcium carbonate and sheets of organic tissue, are much tougher than an equivalent slab of the mineral alone. So, like a biomineral, the bone-mimic is a blend of hard mineral-like substances and soft organic ones.

Bone is a composite of the calcium-containing mineral hydroxyapatite and the protein collagen, the tough fibrous component of tendons and ligaments. Collagen fibres provide a scaffold on which hydroxyapatite crystals gather, conferring hardness.

Each collagen fibre is itself a delicately wrought cable of several string-like protein molecules. The fibres assemble spontaneously like pre-programmed girders. These hold the hydroxyapatite crystals together and govern the orientation of the stacked sheets of atoms in the crystals, enhancing the material’s strength.

Sam Stupp and colleagues of Northwestern University in Illinois have tailor-made small protein-like molecules called peptides. To each peptide they attached a tail that was insoluble in water, encouraging them to assemble into cylindrical columns with their tails pointing inwards, shielded from water.

These long, flexible columns formed a tangle of worm-like fibres. Stupp’s team fixed the fibres in place by bonding adjacent peptides on their surfaces. Similar bonds link collagen fibres into the connective tissue between cells.

The team also included molecular groups such as those that promote hydroxyapatite crystal formation in natural proteins. Finally, they added groups that make proteins stick to cells. These, they reasoned, would allow the self-assembling web to harbour living cells.

The researchers put this matrix in a solution of ions - primarily calcium and phosphate. Hydroxyapatite crystals grew on the scaffold; their atomic layers aligned with the fibres, just as they do on the collagen scaffold of bone.


  1. Hartgerink, J. D., Beniash, E. & Stupp, S. I. Self-assembly and mineralization of peptide-amphiphile nanofibers. Science, Published online 22 November (2001).

PHILIP BALL | © Nature News Service
Further information:

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Researchers demonstrate existence of new form of electronic matter
15.03.2018 | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

nachricht Boron can form a purely honeycomb, graphene-like 2-D structure
15.03.2018 | Science China Press

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>