The teeth of the limpet

Researchers discover that the teeth of the limpet, small aquatic snail-like creatures with conical shells, is hardest natural material ever found.

Images credit University of Portsmouth

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth have discovered that limpets, have teeth with biological structures so strong that could revolutionise industrial engineering, to make cars, boats and planes of the future.

They look at teeth of limpets, which cling to rocks around UK shores, and found that exploit ‘distinctive composite nanostructures consisting of high volume fractions of reinforcing goethite nanofibres within a softer protein phase’ to give mechanical integrity when rasping over rock surfaces during feeding.

Limpet clinging to rocks around UK shores

Professor Asa Barber from the University’s School of Engineering, that led the study, said: “Nature is a wonderful source of inspiration for structures that have excellent mechanical properties. All the things we observe around us, such as trees, the shells of sea creatures and the limpet teeth studied in this work, have evolved to be effective at what they do.

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 but now we have discovered that limpet teeth exhibit a strength that is potentially higher.”