A team of scientists have made a new discovery about naturally occurring magnetic materials, which in turn could lead to the development of nanoscale energy sources used to power next generation electronic devices. Researchers from Japan’s Okayama University and UC Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering worked together to study the gumboot chiton, a type of mollusk that produces teeth made of the magnetic mineral magnetite, in hopes of better understanding its genetic process.
While magnetite is a mineral that more commonly comes from the Earth’s crust, the gumboot chiton is one of the rare animals that produces it, using its teeth to scrape up algae and in turn grinding down the ocean rock it grows on. The teeth grow in rows, with new ones created to replace those that are worn down over time.
By looking at the chiton’s genetics, the scientists found that the RNA molecules in the teeth were responsible for proteins that both store and release iron, and produce the energy to turn raw materials into magnetite. This includes a new protein, “radular teeth matrix protein1,” found on the cusp of the tooth, that is believed to produce iron oxide.
The hope is that this discovery will lead to a better understanding of biological magnetite and how it grows, along with using its magnetic properties for electronics, like nanoscale energy sources, as well as improving the wear-resistance of coatings and tools.