A recent discovery by researchers from the University of Portsmouth has revealed that limpet teeth are the strongest biological material known to man. The findings, published in the Royal Society journal Interface, showcase the extreme strength of these biological structures. In the past, scientists pinpointed spider silk as the strongest biological material, but this new research suggests that limpet teeth are the new champion due to the dense presence of goethite nanofibers.
What is a limpet?
Limpets are small gastropods with cup-like shells easily found on rocky seashores, especially around western Europe. Limpets live on rocks and eat algae, and use their shells not only as a matter of defense, but also to ram other limpets and various creatures that compete for food. Limpets are territorial and use their shells to engrave small circles in a rock, creating a habitual resting place, according to The Living World of Mollusks. Scientists stress that limpets need strong teeth to scrape algae off rocks and move around.
To conduct their research, Portsmouth scientists first developed a method for breaking apart the miniscule limpet teeth. According to a University of Portsmouth news release, the teeth are less than a millimeter in length and have the same strength no matter their size. This means researchers could not rely on bigger limpet teeth breaking more easily. After creating a method for breaking the teeth, scientists experimented with samples about 100 times thinner than a strand of human hair.
The team found that the strength of limpet teeth relies on both their makeup and curved shape, and believe that the findings have real-world applications.
While it will likely take some time to innovate methods for repurposing the strength of limpet teeth commercially, scientists already have a multitude of ideas for their potential use. Using "bioinspiration," scientists, engineers and other designers often develop structures similar to those found in nature.
"Until now we thought that spider silk was the strongest biological material because of its super-strength and potential applications in everything from bullet-proof vests to computer electronics," Dr. Asa Barber, a lead researcher of the study, said in the news release. "But now we have discovered that limpet teeth exhibit a strength that is potentially higher."
In the particular case of limpet teeth, Barber believes that the team's findings can strengthen various vehicles:
"Limpets need high strength teeth to rasp over rock surfaces and remove algae for feeding when the tide is in. We discovered that the fibers of goethite are just the right size to make up a resilient composite structure. This discovery means that the fibrous structures found in limpet teeth could be mimicked and used in high-performance engineering applications such as Formula 1 racing cars, the hulls of boats and aircraft structures."
Of course, while limpet teeth are designed to be extremely durable due to their habitat, the same can't necessarily be said for humans. Though human teeth are tough, they require regular brushing, flossing and rinsing to be kept in tiptop condition.