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Bloodworm's way with copper likely provides paradigm for new materials

e these transition metals play in those fibers," said Waite. "We have discovered that if we leach out the metals, the structure is weaker."

Because of Waite's long-standing interest in metals in mussel fibers, he had earmarked the 1980 report on the copper and zinc in blood- and clamworms as intriguing. Funding sources, however, failed to share Waite's enthusiasm for the worms. Supported by the Austrian Science Fund (Fonds zur Foerderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung, FWF), Lichtenegger joined Waite and Stucky as a postdoctoral fellow at UCSB to study the worms despite the absence of specific funding for the project.

"We had an enormously good time," said Waite. "It is really nice once in a while to do whatever your intellect dictates. We didn't have enough preliminary information to justify independent funding for the project. It just seemed an interesting orphan."

"Orphan" though the genesis be, the progeny of the research are not. In addition to providing a possible paradigm for a new material system, other possible applications include, for instance, drug delivery. This research is an example of biomimetics, whereby an organism's biomolecular strategies for adaptation are studied and then employed to make new materials and devices. The "Science" paper focuses on the first step of determining and understanding the organism's biomolecular structures and raises even more tantalizing questions about them than it answers.

A skilled x-ray scattering specialist, Lichtenegger and another postdoc in Stucky's group in the UCSB Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Michael Bartl (also an author on the "Science" paper), employed a full arsenal of high resolution imaging techniques to study the worms.

"The thing that really galvanized our attention," said Waite, "was Helga's detection of copper biomineral at the bloodworm's jaw tip." The 1980 findings gave no indication that the copper was associated with a mineral
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Contact: Jacquelyn Savani
jsavani@engineering.ucsb.edu
805-893-4301
University of California, Santa Barbara - Engineering
10-Oct-2002


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