Calcite Biocomposites Up Close

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Science  27 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5957, pp. 1194-1195
DOI: 10.1126/science.1183122

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From echinoderm spines to the exoskeletons of coccolithophores and the prismatic layer structures of mollusk shells, organisms can generate complex and fantastic architectures by depositing minerals such as calcite into matrices containing biomolecules. The biopolymers not only direct the orientation, texture, and morphology of the crystalline network, they are often incorporated within the mineral phase and play integral roles in enhancing mechanical properties (1). On page 1244 of this issue, Li et al. (2) use electron tomography to demonstrate how physical entrapment of biopolymers leads to the formation of high-energy calcite surfaces at the interfaces with the polymer network. The work paves the way toward a clearer understanding of biogenic and synthetic mineral-polymer composites.