Peptides Enhance Magnesium Signature in Calcite: Insights into Origins of Vital Effects

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Science  31 Oct 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5902, pp. 724-727
DOI: 10.1126/science.1159417

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Studies relating the magnesium (Mg) content of calcified skeletons to temperature often report unexplained deviations from the signature expected for inorganically grown calcite. These “vital effects” are believed to have biological origins, but mechanistic bases for measured offsets remain unclear. We show that a simple hydrophilic peptide, with the same carboxyl-rich character as that of macromolecules isolated from sites of calcification, increases calcite Mg content by up to 3 mole percent. Comparisons to previous studies correlating Mg content of carbonate minerals with temperature show that the Mg enhancement due to peptides results in offsets equivalent to 7° to 14°C. The insights also provide a physical basis for anecdotal evidence that organic chemistry modulates the mineralization of inorganic carbonates and suggest an approach to tuning impurity levels in controlled materials synthesis.

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