Quirks and Quarks

What Puts the Bend in Bone

Bone's strength and resilience comes from a gel that cushions the mineral particles in bone....

Bone is a composite material that is strong, resilient and flexible, but much of that strength comes from brittle crystals of calcium phosphate. For decades, scientists have tried to understand how this brittle mineral can be buffered, so it can flex and bend. Dr. Melinda Duer, a Reader in Biological and Biomedical Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, and her team, used several techniques to discover that the key is a chemical called citrate, which forms a kind of gel with water and acts like a lubricating and shock-absorbing mortar between the individual crystals in bone. This discovery also gives some potential insight into bone disease, where, Dr. Duer suspects, the precise structure of bone is disrupted, allowing the citrate to escape.

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