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

wear resistance than the team had been employing. Relying just on hardness and stiffness values had led the team to conclude that the copper biomineral does not compare favorably with other bioceramics. Schberl, however, had noticed that the hardness to stiffness ratio in bloodworm jaws was higher than in other known mineralized tissue. Zok suggested that this was indicative of a high abrasion resistance, commonly understood as equal to hardness to the three halves divided by stiffness [H3/2/E].

"With the worm," said Waite, "it is that quotient that is revealing rather than individual hardness and stiffness measurements. So when you look at that quotient, the wear resistance value is very close to the best materials we can make."

But high values for H and E also correlate with the presence of copper, even where the copper is not in mineral form. Lichtenegger's analysis of the distribution of copper in the bloodworm jaw suggested that about half the copper was in a biomineral form and half in the form of copper aggregates. That finding particularly interested Waite.

He said, "I know from my research that the proteins in invertebrate jaws and particularly in the jaw tips are not complicated. They have generally just two types of amino acids, glycine and histidine. These two amino acids probably repeat in a precise chainlike sequence. In this respect it is one of Nature's closest analogues to synthetic polymer molecules. I expect that the copper cation in the bloodworm jaw plays a role in the cross-linking of these amino acid chains."

So the copper contributes two ways--in mineral form and in cross-linking--to make the jaw material strong and tough.

Finally, the authors raise the possibility "that copper may mediate the activation of venom during injection."

"Storing venom in non-toxic form that is being catalytically activated as it passes through this syringe may," suggested Waite, "afford us a model for de
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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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