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Mineral Minimization In Nature's Alternative Teeth

Christopher C Broomell, Rashda K Khan, Dana N Moses, Ali Miserez, Michael G Pontin, Galen D Stucky, Frank W Zok, J. Herbert Waite

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Contrary to conventional wisdom, mineralization is not the only strategy evolved for the formation of hard, stiff materials. Indeed, the sclerotized mouthparts of marine invertebrates exhibit Young's modulus and hardness approaching 10 and 1 GPa, respectively, with little to no help from mineralization. Based on biochemical analyses, three of these mouthparts, the jaws of glycerid and nereid polychaetes and a squid beak, reveal a largely organic composition dominated by glycine- and histidine-rich proteins. Despite the well-known metal ion binding by the imidazole side-chain of histidine and the suggestion that this interaction provides mechanical support in nereid jaws, there is at present no universal molecular explanation for the relationship of histidine to mechanical properties in these sclerotized structures.