Coherently aligned nanoparticles within a biogenic single crystal: A biological prestressing strategy

Science. 2017 Dec 8;358(6368):1294-1298. doi: 10.1126/science.aaj2156.


In contrast to synthetic materials, materials produced by organisms are formed in ambient conditions and with a limited selection of elements. Nevertheless, living organisms reveal elegant strategies for achieving specific functions, ranging from skeletal support to mastication, from sensors and defensive tools to optical function. Using state-of-the-art characterization techniques, we present a biostrategy for strengthening and toughening the otherwise brittle calcite optical lenses found in the brittlestar Ophiocoma wendtii This intriguing process uses coherent nanoprecipitates to induce compressive stresses on the host matrix, functionally resembling the Guinier-Preston zones known in classical metallurgy. We believe that these calcitic nanoparticles, being rich in magnesium, segregate during or just after transformation from amorphous to crystalline phase, similarly to segregation behavior from a supersaturated quenched alloy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Products / chemistry*
  • Calcium Carbonate / chemistry*
  • Crystallization
  • Echinodermata / chemistry*
  • Magnesium / chemistry
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Stress, Mechanical


  • Biological Products
  • Calcium Carbonate
  • Magnesium