Scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara believe that they have discovered a molecular “glue” that helps healthy bone to resist fracture:
A startling discovery about the properties of human bone has been made by scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The scientists describe their results – finding a sort of “glue” in human bone – in the cover story of the August issue of the international scientific journal, Nature Materials. The article was published on-line on July 17. It describes how healthy bone resists fracture and how unhealthy bone fractures at the molecular level. Included with the article are the highest resolution images of bone ever published, which reveal the location of the adhesive or “glue” that holds together mineralized collagen fibrils (protein fibers) of bone.
The glue appears to contain “springs” that uncoil when the bone is stressed, helping the bone to absorb shock. When the stress is relaxed, they coil back to their original structure…
Working in the physics laboratory of Professor Paul K. Hansma, in collaboration with the UCSB labs of Professors Daniel E. Morse and Galen D. Stucky, the interdisciplinary group of scientists spent several years tracking down where the glue was located in bone, and how it worked.
“Before this research, it was well known that the mechanical properties of bone depended on mineral particles and on collagen fibrils,” said Hansma. “The picture of bone was that it consisted of these collagen fibrils coated with tiny mineral crystals only a few atoms thick. What we found is that there is a glue in bone that holds these mineralized collagen fibrils together, and this glue works along the same principles that our interdisciplinary research group found in abalone shells. This glue involves sacrificial bonds (with hidden length) that uncoil when the bone is stressed.” That interdisciplinary research group included the research groups of Morse and Stucky, as well as that of Herbert J. Waite.
Said co-author Daniel Morse, director of UCSB’s Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies: “It’s especially exciting for us to find the profound medical significance of our discoveries for human bone.” He described the discovery of “molecular shock absorbers” providing a kind of self-healing glue holding biological mineralized structures together when studying the abalone shell six years ago. “It’s truly remarkable to find the same fundamental mechanisms operating in bone,” said Morse.