Sea Urchin Protein Provides Insights Into Self-Assembly of Skeletal Structures

Calcite crystal generated in the presence of the sea urchin protein rSM50 showing organized nanotexturing.

Calcite crystal generated in the presence of the sea urchin protein rSM50 showing organized nanotexturing.

July 17, 2017 | Source: New York University (NYU), nyu.edu, 7 June 2017, Jain Gaurav et al.

Researchers from NYU Dentistry are investigating a protein found inside the spicules of a sea urchin embryo to understand what makes these proteins such efficient ‘brick organizers.’

Calcium carbonate, or CaCO3, comprises more than 4% of the earth’s crust.  Its most common natural forms are chalk, limestone, and marble, produced by the sedimentation of the shells of small fossilized snails, shellfish, and coral over millions of years.   

New York University College of Dentistry (NYU Dentistry) researchers are studying how nature creates three-dimensional CaCO3 inorganic/organic based materials to form seashells, invertebrate exoskeletons, and vertebrate bone, dentine, and enamel.

“Our current research, funded by U.S. Department of Energy, will enable scientists to better understand the mineralization and assembly process crucial to spicule formation in sea urchin,” said Dr. Evans.  “Our ultimate goal is to determine the molecular properties of these proteins that allow matrices to assemble, mineralize, and participate in the formation of naturally occurring organic/inorganic skeletal structures. The hope is that the comprehensive understanding of spicule proteins will enable the development of tunable fracture resistant materials that one day will find its use in developing lightweight ‘armor' and ‘sturdier’ dental composites.”