Making biominerals: nature’s recipe is old, evolved more than once

In recent years, scientists have teased out many of the secrets of biomineralization, the process by which sea urchins grow spines, mollusks build their shells and corals make their skeletons, not to mention how mammals and other animals make bones and teeth.

The materials that animals make from scratch to build protective shells, razor sharp teeth, load-bearing bones and needlelike spines are some of the hardest and most durable substances known. The recipe for making those materials was one of nature’s closely held secrets, but powerful new analytical tools and microscopes have peeled back much of the mystery, showing, at the nanoscale, exactly how a wide array of animals use precisely the same mechanisms and starter chemicals to make the biomineral structures they depend on.

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