PerspectiveMaterials Science

Creating Flexible Calcite Fibers with Proteins

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Science  15 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6125, pp. 1281-1282
DOI: 10.1126/science.1235357

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The process of biomineralization that forms structures such as bones, teeth, and shells of organisms incorporates biomacromolecules (proteins) into minerals as they precipitate. The composite nature of these materials confers flexibility and elasticity on otherwise brittle minerals, so biominerals can exhibit high performance rarely reproduced by synthetic or biomimetic materials. On page 1298 of this issue, Natalio et al. (1) describe the synthesis of intriguingly flexible fibrous spicules of calcite (CaCO3) using silicatein-α, a protein involved in the formation of skeletal silica (hydrated SiO2) spicules in sponges, to facilitate biomimetic precipitation. Transferring a protein from a biological silicification system to in vitro calcite precipitation led to the formation of spicules with extremely high flexibility. The high quality of these spicules allows them to be used as waveguides for visible light.