Elements such as zinc and copper mix with natural proteins to make durable stingers, claws, and jaws, a new study says.
To latch onto a deer, ticks must first pierce a thick, furry hide. Leaf-cutter ants easily gnaw through tough tropical leaves. And scorpions use their tails to inject venom into prey several times larger than themselves.
Such marvels have long intrigued University of Oregon physicist Robert Schofield. How do these tiny creatures deliver such an outsized punch?
The answer, according to his new paper published in Scientific Reports, lies in the very atomic structure of their tools.
Scientists already knew that the mandibles, fangs, and stingers of several invertebrate species contain large amounts of heavy metals, such as zinc, copper, and manganese—up to 20 percent by weight in some species. But they didn’t know how the metals related to durable proteins that are also found in these invertebrates’ body parts.
By analysing the proteins and heavy metals at a molecular level, Schofield and colleagues learned that individual metal atoms are woven into the proteins to create a strong, long-lasting composite material, which they’ve dubbed heavy element biomaterials.
“It’s really cool that adding these metals makes for a more durable tool,” says Stephanie Crofts, a biologist at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts who wasn’t involved in the paper. “This study is a nice look at how this occurs across a range of organisms, and it may be more...
Read Full Story: https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/animals/2021/09/how-heavy-metals-give-spiders-and-other-tiny-animals-their-powerful-bite
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