Reinforcement of bio-apatite by zinc substitution in the incisor tooth of a prawn

S. Bentov, B. A. Palmer, B. Bar-On, Y. Shelef, E. D. Aflalo, A. Sagi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Various material-strengthening strategies have evolved in the cuticle and the feeding tools of arthropods. Of particular interest is the crustacean mandible, which is frequently reinforced with calcium phosphate, giving a minerology similar to that of human bones and teeth. We report here a biological strengthening method of apatite by Zn substitution, found in the incisor teeth of the freshwater prawn Macrobrachium rosenbergii. Nanoindentation measurements show a clear positive correlation between the Zn/Ca ratio and the stiffness and hardness of the composite. In the incisor, Zn-substituted apatite forms an internal vertical axis, extending from the sharp outer edges of the tooth to its basal segment. The substitution level in this zone (up to 40%) is very high compared with the levels achieved in synthetic ceramics (<20%). Finite element simulation suggests that the high-Zn axis acts as a unique internal load transfer element, directing stress from the biting cusps to the more compliant underlying layers. In light of the considerable research being invested in developing synthetic calcium phosphate derivatives for human bone and tooth grafts, the innovative mineralogy of the M. rosenbergii incisor may inspire beneficial biomimetic applications. Statement of Significance: The controlled incorporation of impurities into biominerals is a widespread phenomenon in biomineralization that may pave the way to new classes of biomimetic materials. The present study reveals a biogenic mineral of zinc-substituted apatite found in the incisor teeth of a prawn. A clear correlation between zinc substitution level and stiffness and hardness, suggests that zinc substitution serves to mechanically reinforce the bioapatite. The spatial arrangement of the high-zinc apatite unveils a material-level adaptation strategy for tooth fortification, in which the rigid high-Zn structure servs as an internal load-transfer element that transmits the stress directly from the tooth's sharp cusps to the more compliant underlying layers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-123
Number of pages8
JournalActa Biomaterialia
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2021


  • Apatitereinforcement
  • Biomineralization
  • Teeth-biomechanics
  • Zn-substituted apatite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Molecular Biology


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