Morphogenesis of calcitic sponge spicules: A role for specialized proteins interacting with growing crystals

J. Aizenberg*, J. Hanson, M. Ilan, L. Leiserowitz, T. F. Koetzle, L. Addadi, S. Weiner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Crystals formed in biological tissues often adopt remarkable morphologies that are thought to be determined mainly by the shapes of the confined spaces in which they grow. Another possible way of controlling crystal shape, demonstrated only in vitro, is by means of specialized proteins preferentially interacting with certain crystal faces. In so doing, they reduce the rate of growth in these directions and consequently change the overall crystal shape. In an X-ray diffraction study of the distribution of defects within the lattice of calcite crystals produced by certain sponges, we show that a remarkable correlation exists between the defect patterns or crystal texture and the macroscopic morphology of the spicules. This was observed in two cases in which proteins are present within the spicule crystal, but not in a third case where such intracrystalline proteins are absent. Furthermore, one of the spicules exhibited marked differences in texture even within families of structurally identical crystal planes, demonstrating that the organisms exert exquisite control over the microenvironment in which crystals grow. We conclude that highly controlled intercalation of specialized proteins inside the crystals is an additional means by which organisms control spicule growth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-268
Number of pages7
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1995


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