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Magnetic Teeth From Mollusk Could Help Advance Nanotech Used For Energy Generation

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Scientists are looking at the naturally-occurring magnetite in the teeth of a type of mollusks to power the next generation of electronics.

A team of the Okayama University in Japan and UC Riverside's Bourns College of Engineering studied the gumboot chiton (Cryptochiton stelleri), one of the few animals that produce magnetite — a mineral commonly found in the Earth's crust and used to develop nanoscale energy sources in electronics. Understanding how the creature produces the mineral could help enable scientists to grow nanoscale materials for energy and water-based applications.

Gumboot Chiton's Hard As Rock Teeth

Magnetite, which is produced biologically, has been previously found in bacteria, homing pigeons, honeybees, and salmon. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, however, chitons have hundreds of teeth that contain so much magnetite, a magnet can pick them up.

The gumboot chiton survives in a diet mainly made up of algae. To feed itself, the mollusk scrapes off the algae, grinding down ocean rocks with its teeth.

The teeth of a gumboot chiton, which are made from the magnetic mineral magnetite, grow in rows. When a tooth wears down, it is replaced by a new one.

To understand the biomineralization process — how the living organism produces the valuable mineral — rather than searching for specific genes, the researchers turned to the transcriptome, a set of RNA molecules in the teeth. While the DNA contains the blueprints of life, the RNA is responsible for enforcing them.

The team identified 20 of the most abundant RNA transcripts found in the new teeth, which are responsible for a protein that stores and releases iron as well as produce the energy that turns raw materials into magnetite. The researchers also found 22 proteins, including a new protein called "radular teeth matrix protein1," in the mineralized cusp of the teeth. The new protein, they believe, interact with the substances present on the teeth of the mollusk to produce iron oxide.

Revolutionizing Manufacturing

The researchers believe that their study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, will address the urgent problem of nanoscale energy sources to power the next generation of electronic devices. The team hopes that understanding the biomineralization of magnetite will lead to the production of abrasion-resistant nanoscale energy materials.

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