06/28/2015  |  
Posted in Fun Dental Facts
What’s the Strongest Substance Found in Living Organisms?

Armadillo armor? Spider silk? How about snail teeth?

If you picked the last choice, you’re right! According to a new study by British scientists, a group of aquatic snails commonly called limpets have tiny teeth that are made of the hardest biological material ever found. The substance, a composite of proteins and minerals, is about five times stronger than spider silk (the previous record-holder), and nearly as strong as high-tech artificial carbon fibers. And, by comparison, it’s about ten times harder than human tooth enamel.

Maybe you never suspected that snails had teeth. If so, it may be because those teeth are so tiny: Each is less than a millimeter long. Also, they are located on the bottom of a tongue-like appendage called a radula, which is hidden under the limpet’s dish-shaped shell.

So why do these animals, which are generally found clinging to rocks at the edge of the ocean, need such strong teeth? For one thing, they use them to scrape nutritious algae from rock surfaces. But that’s not all:

The tiny mollusks also use their teeth to excavate small shelters in the rocks themselves. That’s what led one limpet biologist to call them “the bulldozers of the seashore.”

The new finding is exciting to scientists and engineers because it may point the way toward making new, ultra-strong materials. According to Asa Barber, a lead researcher from the University of Portsmouth in England, its potential uses include “high-performance engineering applications such as Formula 1 racing cars, the hulls of boats and aircraft structures.” It might also find uses in electronics, as a substitute for Kevlar in bullet-proof vests…or in some as yet unknown superhero-type applications.

So look out, Spiderman: Here comes the snail!