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Mimicking limpet tooth formation to manufacture the strongest known biomaterial – chitin/goethite composite

17 August 2022

Pulling Teeth

Battered by waves, limpets hang on for dear life – using rows of teeth for a tight suction to the underside of boats and rocks. The teeth of the common limpet (Patella vulgata) are made from the strongest known substance in the world – a composite material of chitin and goethite – which scientists might put to new uses. In this animation based on X-ray computed tomography, teeth producing cells called radula are highlighted in a weaving white line – later rainbow colours highlight different levels of mineralization as teeth develop. Researchers aiming to recreate these impressive gnashers, pull the cells and tissues into a lab dish, guiding the growth of this strong material with chemicals. The limpet’s teeth could one day inspire a building material for implants, or in tiny scaffolds, helping human cells to heal against the turbulent currents inside the body.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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