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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jan 6;106(1):38-43. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0808796106. Epub 2008 Dec 30.

The key role of the surface membrane in why gastropod nacre grows in towers.

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  • 1Departamento de Estratigrafía y Paleontología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Granada, E-18071 Granada, Spain.


The nacre of gastropod molluscs is intriguingly stacked in towers. It is covered by a surface membrane, which protects the growing nacre surface from damage when the animal withdraws into its shell. The surface membrane is supplied by vesicles that adhere to it on its mantle side and secretes interlamellar membranes from the nacre side. Nacre tablets rapidly grow in height and later expand sideways; the part of the tablet formed during this initial growth phase is here called the core. During initial growth, the tips of the cores remain permanently submerged within the surface membrane. The interlamellar membranes, which otherwise separate the nacre tablet lamellae, do not extend across cores, which are aligned in stacked tablets forming the tower axis, and thus towers of nacre tablets are continuous along the central axis. We hypothesize that in gastropod nacre growth core formation precedes that of the interlamellar membrane. Once the core is complete, a new interlamellar membrane, which covers the area of the tablet outside the core, detaches from the surface membrane. In this way, the tower-like growth of gastropod nacre becomes comprehensible.

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