Science 3 min read

Researchers Create Artificial Mother-of-Pearl Using Bacteria

Thanks to a new synthetic process, researchers can now grow mother of pearl in a fast and efficient process. ¦ moritz320 / Pixabay

Thanks to a new synthetic process, researchers can now grow mother of pearl in a fast and efficient process. ¦ moritz320 / Pixabay

Nacre, also known as Mother-of-Pearl, has some unique mechanical properties.

Not only is it exceptionally tough, but it’s also surprisingly bendable while retaining its stiffness. As such, scientists have tried to create a synthetic material that would mimic nacre’s characteristics.

But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Creating an artificial nacre is a complex and energy-intensive process, which could potentially harm the environment.

It typically involves using expensive equipment and toxic chemicals in extreme temperatures and under high-pressure conditions. That’s why scientists have generally avoided creating artificial Mother-of-pearl, until now.

Anne S. Meyer, a biologist at the University of Rochester, has invented a cheap and eco-friendly way of making artificial nacre with bacteria.

From Bacteria to Mother-of-Pearl

Meyer and her team created the artificial nacre from alternating thin layers of crystallized calcium carbonate – similar to cement – and sticky polymer.

First, they placed a glass or plastic slide in a beaker containing a calcium source, the bacteria Sporosarcina pasteurii, and urea.

With this combination, the researchers were able to trigger the crystallization of calcium carbonate.

Now came the second phase of the experiment which involves creating the polymer layer.

In this phase, the researchers just placed the slide into a solution of the bacteria Bacillus licheniformis and left the beaker in an incubator to form the artificial nacre.

It currently takes the researchers a whole day to build up a layer of calcium carbonate and polymer that’s five micrometers thick. However, Meyer intends to cut down the production time.

She noted;

“We’re trying new techniques to make thicker, nacre-like materials faster and that could be the entire material itself.”

The associate professor of biology also believes she could increase the toughness of other materials by coating them with the artificial nacre.

Beneficial Characteristics of Meyer’s Lab Grown Nacre

The major advantage of Meyer’s artificial nacre is its biocompatibility.

Since it’s made from materials that are not harmful to the human body, the nacre is ideal for medical applications. These include implants and artificial bones.

“If you break your arm, for example, you might put in a metal pin that has to be removed with a second surgery after your bone heals. A pin made out of our material would be stiff and tough, but you wouldn’t have to remove it,” said Meyer. 

Aside from its medical application, artificial nacre’s properties make it perfect for fighting chemical degradation and weathering.

Read More: Survey Shows Asia is Ready for Lab-Grown Meat

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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