Water in the formation of biogenic minerals: Peeling away the hydration layers

Jason R. Dorvee, Arthur Veis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Minerals of biogenic origin form and crystallize from aqueous environments at ambient temperatures and pressures. The in vivo environment either intracellular or intercellular, contains many components that modulate both the activity of the ions which associate to form the mineral, as well as the activity and structure of the crowded water. Most of the studies about the mechanism of mineralization, that is, the detailed pathways by which the mineral ions proceed from solution to crystal state, have been carried out in relatively dilute solutions and clean solutions. These studies have considered both thermodynamic and kinetic controls. Most have not considered the water itself. Is the water a passive bystander, or is it intimately a participant in the mineral ion densification reaction? A wide range of experiments show that the mineralization pathways proceed through a series of densification stages with intermediates, such as a "dense liquid" phase and the prenucleation clusters that form within it. This is in contrast to the idea of a single step phase transition, but consistent with the Gibbs concept of discontinuous phase transitions from supersaturated mother liquor to crystal. Further changes in the water structure at every surface and interface during densification guides the free energy trajectory leading to the crystalline state. In vertebrates, mineralization takes place in a hydrated collagen matrix, thus water must be considered as a direct participant. Although different in detail, the crystallization of calcium phosphates, as apatite, and calcium carbonates, as calcite, are mechanistically identical from the viewpoint of water.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)278-303
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Structural Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Apatite
  • Calcite
  • Collagen
  • Hydration layers
  • Mineralization
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology


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