Chitons have the ability to make their own teeth out of one of the hardest materials made by a living organism: magnetite.
Making substances such as magnetite, an iron oxide used in electronics and medical devices often requires extremely high temperature and pressure, as well as strongly acid or base conditions.
But these animals have been able to make iron oxide in benign ocean water conditions with only the iron available from the algae they eat.
The chiton boasts hundreds of teeth on its tongue, the oldest ones on the tip and the youngest furthest back, pushing their way forward every few days as if on a conveyor belt.
Scientists found that “there are proteins and sugars buried within the teeth that these animals use to form iron oxide,” Gordon says. In the watery gel at a tooth’s centre carbohydrate fibres criss-cross to form a scaffold that binds positively charged ions such as magnesium and sodium.
“Perhaps one day we can harness the power of the mollusc model to develop techniques for synthesising tough materials in the lab,” scientists say. “It could be a whole revolutionary way to produce things.”
DESIGN OR RANDOM EVOLUTION?