Temperature can control the growth of biomorphs

  • Biomorphs are silica and carbonate materials capable of assembling themselves to create symmetries, forms and structures similar to those of living organisms.
  • The results of this CSIC study have been published in the journal ‘Nature Communications’.

Calcium carbonate is the mineral most used by living organisms to build complex structures with excellent mechanical properties that they use as exoskeletons. To make them, they only need calcium from sea or river water, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and organic matter in the form of polymers, created by the organisms themselves. How living organisms do this is still a mystery today. Unveiling it and imitating the ease with which life can produce advanced materials at low cost is the goal of numerous laboratories around the world. A team of researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) has discovered a procedure to create similar mineral architectures with multiple shapes and textures using only calcium carbonate and silica, two very abundant and affordable materials.

Biomorphs are crystalline structures composed of carbonate and silica nano-bricks, capable of assembling themselves to create symmetries, shapes and textures reminiscent of the skeletons of living organisms. For years they have been explored in various laboratories for their amazing properties. “We have discovered that using lime and silica, carbonate bricks self-organize either in complex shapes and textures or in simple perfect crystals, depending on temperature,” explains CSIC scientist Juan Manuel García Ruiz, from the Andalusian Institute of Earth Sciences (a joint centre of CSIC and the University of Granada). “By controlling the temperature we can change the growth pattern of a mineral architecture at will, which opens the door to new possibilities in the manufacture of complex materials with multiple textures such as those produced by living organisms”, adds the researcher.

Biomorphs are synthesized in the laboratory under conditions similar to those formed by the rocks of primitive Earth, including those containing the oldest possible fossils on the planet. “Knowing that these structures can be produced by a mineral as abundant as calcium carbonate makes the investigation of the role they could play when the Earth cradled life even more fascinating,” concludes García Ruiz, who three decades ago discovered and named the biomorphs.

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Gan Zhang, Cristobal Verdugo-Escamilla, Duane Choquesillo-Lazarte & Juan Manuel García-Ruiz. Thermal assisted self-organization of calcium carbonate. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-07658

 

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