Sea snail teeth are strongest known natural substance

February 19, 2015

Snails may be small, but their teeth pack a huge punch. Limpet teeth, or those belonging to aquatic snails, have strength comparable to those of the strongest man-made fibers, according to a recent study published in Royal Society's journal Interface.

Snails may be small, but their teeth pack a huge punch.

Limpet teeth, or those belonging to aquatic snails, have strength comparable to those of the strongest man-made fibers, according to a recent study published in Royal Society's journal Interface.

This strength could be copied to reinforce cars, planes, boats and other objects, according to Asa Barber, an engineering professor at the University of Portsmouth and one of the authors of the study. They could also be used to make false teeth for humans.

The teeth of limpets contain distinctive nanostructures with closely packed goethite nanofibres within a softer protein phase, according to the study. This helps them maneuver over rock surfaces during feeding. Their teeth are strong they often leave imprints in the rock face.

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In addition, limpets, like other snails, have a radula, a tongue lined with tiny teeth used to scrape algae from rocks.

The tensile strength of limpet tooth material measured using in situ atomic force microscopy was found to range from 3.0 to 6.5 GPa and was independent of sample size, according to the study. The strongest man-made fibers, high-performance Toray T1000G carbon fibers, have a tensile strength of 6.5 GPa.

To obtain material for her study, researchers used a a new technique involving atomic force microscopy to break off a a sliver of tooth nearly 100 times thinner than a human hair. The sea snails studied were harvested in Southampton, UK.

To read the full study, "Extreme strength observed in limpet teeth, visit http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/12/105/20141326.

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