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biomineralization

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Definition: Biomineralization is the process by which living organisms produce minerals, often to harden or stiffen existing tissues. Such tissues are called mineralized tissues.

Biomineralization is an extremely widespread phenomenon; all six taxonomic kingdoms contain members that are able to form minerals, and over 60 different minerals have been identified in organisms.

Examples include silicates in algae and diatoms, carbonates in invertebrates, and calcium phosphates and carbonates in vertebrates.

These minerals often form structural features such as sea shells and the bone in mammals and birds.

Organisms have been producing mineralised skeletons for the past 550 million years.

Other examples include copper, iron and gold deposits involving bacteria.

Biologically-formed minerals often have special uses such as magnetic sensors in magnetotactic bacteria (Fe3O4), gravity sensing devices (CaCO3, CaSO4, BaSO4) and iron storage and mobilization (Fe2O3•H2O in the protein ferritin).

In terms of taxonomic distribution, the most common biominerals are the phosphate and carbonate salts of calcium that are used in conjunction with organic polymers such as collagen and chitin to give structural support to bones and shells.

The structures of these biocomposite materials are highly controlled from the nanometer to the macroscopic level, resulting in complex architectures that provide multifunctional properties.

Because this range of control over mineral growth is desirable for materials engineering applications, there is significant interest in understanding and elucidating the mechanisms of biologically controlled biomineralization.

Functions

Biominerals perform a variety of roles in organisms, the most important being support, defence and feeding

See also

- magnetotactic bacteria
- biocrystallization
- biointerface
- bone mineral
- mineralized tissues