Persistent polyamorphism in the chiton tooth: From a new biomineral to inks for additive manufacturing

Linus Stegbauer, Paul J.M. Smeets, Robert Free, Shay G. Wallace, Mark C. Hersam, Esen E. Alp, Derk Joester*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Engineering structures that bridge between elements with disparate mechanical properties are a significant challenge. Organisms reap synergy by creating complex shapes that are intricately graded. For instance, the wear-resistant cusp of the chiton radula tooth works in concert with progressively softer microarchitectural units as the mollusk grazes on and erodes rock. Herein, we focus on the stylus that connects the ultrahard and stiff tooth head to the flexible radula membrane. Using techniques that are especially suited to probe the rich chemistry of iron at high spatial resolution, in particular synchrotron Mössbauer and X-ray absorption spectroscopy, we find that the upper stylus of Cryptochiton stelleri is in fact a mineralized tissue. Remarkably, the inorganic phase is nano disperse santabarbaraite, an amorphous ferric hydroxyphosphate that has not been observed as a biomineral. The presence of two persistent polyamorphic phases, amorphous ferric phosphate and santabarbaraite, in close proximity, is a unique aspect that demonstrates the level of control over phase transformations in C. stelleri dentition. The stylus is a highly graded material in that its mineral content and mechanical properties vary by a factor of 3 to 8 over distances of a few hundred micrometers, seamlessly bridging between the soft radula and the hard tooth head. The use of amorphous phases that are low in iron and high in water content may be key to increasing the specific strength of the stylus. Finally, we show that we can distill these insights into design criteria for inks for additive manufacturing of highly tunable chitosan-based composites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020160118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number23
StatePublished - Apr 29 2021


  • Additive manufacturing
  • Amorphous ferric hydroxyphosphate
  • Biomineralization
  • Chiton
  • Polyamorphism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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