Bloodworms have quite the reputation when it comes to their fangs — they’re made of protein, melanin, which is common in creatures.
However, it also consists of concentrations of copper that aren’t found anywhere else in the animal kingdom. This was a mystery that has baffled several scientists.
Now, researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara have found its source — Marine sediments.
Herbert Waite, a biochemist from the aforementioned institution has been studying bloodworms for around 20 years now. However, only recently he discovered the chemical process that forms the jaw-like material from start to finish.
These jaws are very important to the bloodworms — they can only form it once and it needs to be tough enough to last its entire lifespan of five years. It comes in handy to bite the prey and even puncture their exoskeleton and inject the lethal venom.
To form this, bloodworm first makes use of a protein precursor that causes copper to turn into a viscous protein-rich solution that’s also rich in copper and phase-separates from water.
The protein then uses the copper to catalyse the conversion of the amino acid derivative dubbed DOPA into melanin which fuses with protein resulting in the jaw possessing mechanical properties.
Using this process, the worm synthesises the material easily, which would actually be quite complicated, involving several apparatuses, solutions and temperatures in a laboratory setting.
Researchers claim that such learnings from nature about materials could help engineers develop better consumer products in the future.