In Bloom

Josh Mount & Mary Beth Johnstone

This image was collected by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and shows shell mineral deposited onto a metal implant by the Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica.

In Bloom  by Josh Mount & Mary Beth Johnstone

This entry illustrates the intricate mineral structures that are formed by organisms (biomineralization). Biominerals are a composite of mineral and an organic component called the organic matrix. The organic matrix is believed to influence the architecture of the mineral aggregates and results in a vast array of beautifully intricate structures throughout the plant and animal kingdom. Biominerals are a perfect example of “life imitating art.” Oysters deposit two distinct shell layers composed of calcium carbonate. The submitted picture shows the deposition of folia crystals (look like the picket of a fence) from the inner shell layer which coalesce to form folia sheets. In this picture, the folia sheets converged to form a “rosette” structure at their boundaries. You can also see the organic matrix in between crystals which appears like “glue.” How the organic matrix “glue” affects the mineral type, shape and orientation continues to be at the heart of studies of biomineralization. Understanding how organic matrix is regulated by the cells that secrete it and how it influences mineral structure and growth has implications both in the human health realm of bone and teeth formation as well as nanotechnology applications that seek to create novel ceramic coatings. In this particular experiment, metal implants were placed into the oyster which resulted in the deposition of natural shell onto a removable surface. In this way, we can isolate and study key events that occur during shell formation.

Funding sources for research represented by the image:
AFOSR-UDRI subcontract; DOD

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