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Self-similar mesostructure evolution of the growing mollusc shell reminiscent of thermodynamically driven grain growth


Significant progress has been made in understanding the interaction between mineral precursors and organic components leading to material formation and structuring in biomineralizing systems1,2,3,4,5. The mesostructure of biological materials, such as the outer calcitic shell of molluscs, is characterized by many parameters and the question arises as to what extent they all are, or need to be, controlled biologically. Here, we analyse the three-dimensional structure of the calcite-based prismatic layer of Pinna nobilis6,7,8, the giant Mediterranean fan mussel, using high-resolution synchrotron-based microtomography. We show that the evolution of the layer is statistically self-similar and, remarkably, its morphology and mesostructure can be fully predicted using classical materials science theories for normal grain growth9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16. These findings are a fundamental step in understanding the constraints that dictate the shape of these biogenic minerals and shed light on how biological organisms make use of thermodynamics to generate complex morphologies.

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Figure 1: The microstructure of the prismatic layer of P. nobilis.
Figure 2: Mesostructure characterization based on mean field considerations.
Figure 3: Mesostructure characterization based on topological considerations.


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We acknowledge the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility for provision of synchrotron radiation facilities on ID19. Project supported in part by the German Science Foundation DFG, project FR 2190/4-1 (Leibniz Prize to P.F.).

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Authors and Affiliations



B.B. prepared the samples for the tomography experiments. B.B., I.Z., P.Z. and A.R. performed the synchrotron-based microtomography experiments. P.Z. and A.R. performed the data processing. B.B., P.F. and I.Z. performed image and data analysis. Y.D. supplied the samples. B.B., P.F. and I.Z. wrote the manuscript. I.Z. conceived the project. All authors commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Igor Zlotnikov.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Bayerlein, B., Zaslansky, P., Dauphin, Y. et al. Self-similar mesostructure evolution of the growing mollusc shell reminiscent of thermodynamically driven grain growth. Nature Mater 13, 1102–1107 (2014).

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