What Is the Strongest Biological Material on Earth?
The unassuming limpet, a type of gastropod mollusk that can be found hanging around rocky shores, has come up in the world. In 2015, scientists from the University of Portsmouth in England made an amazing discovery about their teeth. A limpet's tongue is dotted with tiny teeth that they use to scrape food off rocks.
Made of a mineral/protein composite, the teeth of these marine creatures are the strongest natural material ever documented, surpassing even the tensile strength of spider silk. They are so tough that they had to be sliced with a diamond saw. The researchers compared the strength of limpet teeth to a strand of spaghetti holding up 3,000 bags of sugar without breaking. A limpet’s tooth was rated, on average, at about five gigapascals (GPa), which is about five times stronger than most spider silk. Compared to manmade materials, it’s stronger than Kevlar and nearly as robust as high-performance carbon fiber.
Learning about limpets:
- “These teeth are made up of very small fibers, put together in a particular way, and we should be thinking about making our own structures following the same design principles," explained Asa Barber, the study's lead author.
- The fibers, which are less than a millimeter long, consists of an iron-based mineral called goethite, and are intertwined with a protein material, in much the same way that carbon fibers are used to strengthen plastic.
- The discovery may eventually improve man-made composites used to build aircraft, cars, and boats, as well as false teeth and dental fillings.
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