Snail teeth: the world’s strongest biological material?

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth in England found that the prize for the world’s strongest material goes to snail teeth, rather than spider silk.

Spider silk has long been praised as being the world’s strongest material. A certain exotic spider’s silk measured 4.5 GPa. However, when the researchers examined the teeth of the mighty limpet (Patella vulgata), a small aquatic snail housed in a conical shell, they found that the material has a GPa of 5.

The limpet can be found throughout the ocean, even in harsh conditions such as deep canyons and turbulent surf. The snail attaches itself to rocks with its foot and scrapes along the surface with its teeth to collect algae to eat. As you can imagine, the creature needs sturdy chompers to accomplish such a feat.

The strength from the teeth comes from the combination of chitin and a substance called goethite. The goethite is hard, but not tough and can break. However, because of chitin’s stretchy fibres, the material becomes hard, strong and durable.

The material is not only tough in the form or teeny-tiny snail teeth; the researchers found that it keeps it strength no matter the size.

There have been a lot of attempts (and successes) in mimicking the strength of spider silk, but now it’s the turn of snail teeth. The researchers think that the fibrous structures in limpet teeth could be mimicked and used in high-performance engineering applications, such as Formula 1 racing cars, the hulls of boards and aircraft structures.

Photo: Tango22