The major lateral teeth of the chiton Acanthopleura echinata are composite structures composed of three distinct mineral zones: a posterior layer of magnetite; a thin band of lepidocrocite just anterior to this; and apatite throughout the core and anterior regions of the cusp. Biomineralization in these teeth is a matrix-mediated process, in which the minerals are deposited around fibers, with the different biominerals described as occupying architecturally discrete compartments. In this study, a range of scanning electron microscopes was utilized to undertake a detailed in situ investigation of the fine structure of the major lateral teeth. The arrangement of the organic and biomineral components of the tooth is similar throughout the three zones, having no discrete borders between them, and with crystallites of each mineral phase extending into the adjacent mineral zone. Along the posterior surface of the tooth, the organic fibers are arranged in a series of fine parallel lines, but just within the periphery their appearance takes on a "fish scale"-like pattern, reflective of the cross section of a series of units that are overlaid, and offset from each other, in adjacent rows. The units are approximately 2 microm wide and 0.6 microm thick and comprise biomineral plates separated by organic fibers. Two types of subunits make up each "fish scale": one is elongate and curved and forms a trough, in which the other, rod-like unit, is nestled. Adjacent rod and trough units are aligned into large sheets that define the fracture plane of the tooth. The alignment of the plates of rod-trough units is complex and exhibits extreme spatial variation within the tooth cusp. Close to the posterior surface the plates are essentially horizontal and lie in a lateromedial plane, while anteriorly they are almost vertical and lie in the posteroanterior plane. An understanding of the fine structure of the mineralized teeth of chitons, and of the relationship between the organic and mineral components, provides a new insight into biomineralization mechanisms and controls.
Copyright 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.