What are sea urchins’ spines made from?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Q&a - Stu­art Black­man

As with many struc­tural bi­o­log­i­cal ma­te­ri­als in marine en­vi­ron­ments – those of coral reefs and mol­lusc shells, for ex­am­ple – sea urchin spines are com­posed of cal­cium car­bon­ate. In its ba­sic state, this is a rather brit­tle min­eral – think chalk – but evo­lu­tion has come up with a va­ri­ety of ways to strengthen it. When found in nacre (mother of pearl), it is laid down as mul­ti­ple lay­ers of thin sheets, an ar­range­ment that prevents frac­tures from spread­ing. When found in sea urchin spines, mi­cro­scopic blocks of the min­eral are ce­mented to­gether. This de­sign is in­spir­ing hu­man engi­neers to de­velop su­per-tough, con­crete­like ma­te­ri­als that, in the­ory at least, could sup­port struc­tures eight kilo­me­tres high – ten times the height of the world’s tallest build­ing.

Sea urchin spines – in­spir­ing the ar­chi­tects of the fu­ture. 101

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