Polymer fibers extruded by microbes found in an abandoned Wisconsin iron mine serve as templates for the manufacture of microscopic crystals of hairlike proportions. The unusual crystals and how they are made may provide key insight into how nature makes some of its most durable materials, substances such as teeth, bone and shell. The work was reported in the March 12 issue of Science by a group led by Jill Banfield of UC-Berkeley and Gelsomina De Stasio, professor of physics at UW-Madison.
Photo by: courtesy Gelsomina De Stasio
In recent years, scientists have unearthed a trove of subterranean microbial oddities, bugs that live and thrive in bizarre and extreme environments, and that accomplish remarkable feats to survive there.
Now, the flooded depths of an abandoned iron mine in southwestern Wisconsin have yielded yet another novelty: microbes that produce nanometer-scale crystals of extraordinary length. The discovery of the willowy microscopic crystals may open a broad new window to human understanding of biomineralization, the same process that produces bone, teeth and shell, some of nature’s toughest and most intriguing biological materials.
Writing in the March 12, 2004 issue of the journal Science, a team of scientists from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin-Madison describe not only the discovery of the willowy microbe-made crystalline structures, but also the process by which they are produced.
Terry Devitt | U Wisconsin-Madison
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