Sugars are widely known as important sources of energy for all organisms.
Now, Virginia Tech researchers have discovered that certain types of sugars, known as polysaccharides, may also control the timing and placement of minerals that animals use to produce hard structures such as shells and exoskeletons of mollusks, lobsters, and shrimp.
Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Anthony Giuffre, a graduate student in the Department of Geosciences, and his research advisor, Patricia Dove, a University Distinguished Professor in the College of Science , propose a theory of how charged and uncharged sugars can be used to create shells and skeletons.
"Nature had 500 million years to become an amazing materials chemist," said Dove, the C.P. Miles Professor of Geosciences. "Here we are working in the most recent seconds of geologic time to harness those abilities. We can put that knowledge to work for new environmental, medical, and materials-based technologies, such as the developing new synthetic materials for bone repairs or tissue implants."
Proteins have gotten most of the attention in studies of how organic materials control the initial step of making the first tiny crystals that organisms use to build structures that help them move and protect themselves. This process of mineral nucleation is similar to how a pearl or a raindrop forms around a single speck, or nucleus.
"The old picture of divisions between the roles of proteins and polysaccharides melt away when one realizes the underlying chemical controls," Dove said. "In our efforts to establish a physical basis for ho
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