LIFE SCIENCE

How did the bloodworm “iron teeth” come about?

Bloodworms are known for their distinctive fang-like jaws, which are made up of protein, melanin, and copper. No other member of the Animal Kingdom possesses this copper. For now, scientists have figured out how these worms use copper obtained from marine sediments to form jaws. The study was published April 25 in the journal Matter. The study suggests that this process may be more unusual than the “copper jaw” itself.

Because the jaws of bloodworms can only be formed once, they need to be strong enough to maintain function during the animal’s 5-year life, such as biting off prey — sometimes the bloodworm jaws can directly pierce the exoskeletons of the prey, injecting venom to paralyze the prey.

“These worms are very annoying because they are grumpy and easily provoked.” Herbert Waite, a biochemist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said, “When encountering another blood worm, they usually use a ‘copper jaw’ as a weapon to fight. ”

Waite’s lab has been studying bloodworms for 20 years, but it wasn’t until recently that they observed the chemical processes that form “copper jaws.” Bloodworms begin with a protein precursor that absorbs copper to concentrate itself into a viscous, protein-rich liquid with a high copper content that can be separated from water. The protein then uses copper to catalyze the conversion of the amino acid derivative DOPA into melanin, a polymer that binds to the protein and gives the bloodworm jaws mechanical properties similar to artificial metals.

The bloodworm jaws have mechanical properties similar to artificial metals. Image from the author

Through this process, bloodworms can easily synthesize a material, which, if synthesized in a laboratory, would be a complex process involving many different instruments, solvents, and temperatures. Waite said: “We never imagined that such a simple protein, which is mainly composed of glycine and histidine, could perform so many functions and activities. ”

The research team hopes to better understand how bloodworms process independently in order to help streamline some of the production processes and processes that will benefit the industrial sector. “These materials can be a signage of how to make and design better consumer materials.” Waite said. (Source: China Science Daily Feng Weiwei)

Related thesis information: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.matt.2022.04.001

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