Glimmering on the inside of oyster and mussel shells, mother of pearl, or nacre, has a secret – it encourages human bones to grow. The Mayans used nacre for dental implants, and modern day lab tests confirm its astonishing properties – but how does it work? Here, a black and white sketch picks out the repeating patterns found under a high-powered microscope. Researchers know nacre’s layers build up over time, developing in 'controlled disorder’ – they believe this is the key. Nacre’s patterns form a natural biomaterial, acting as a precise scaffold for developing bone. On tracing paper resting over the sketch, blue dots show a grid of nano pits – an artificial design, inspired by nacre’s natural example, that could help mesenchymal stem cells to develop into new bone. It just goes to show, interesting things happen when surprising ideas meet – such as art meeting science at the place where shell meets bone.
Written by John Ankers
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.