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J Struct Biol. 2005 Feb;149(2):149-57.

Sheet nacre growth mechanism: a Voronoi model.

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Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Département des Milieux et Peuplements Aquatiques UMR 5178: CNRS-MNHN: Biologie des Organismes Marins et Ecosystémes 7, rue Cuvier 75005, Paris, France.


Shell nacre (mother of pearl) of Pinctada margaritifera was analyzed by scanning electron microscopy. The originality of this work concerns the sampling performed to observe incipient nacre on the mantle side. The whole animal is embedded in methyl methacrylate followed by separation of the shell from the hardened mantle. It is revealed this way how each future nacre layer pre-exists as a film or compartment. Experimental observations also show for the first time, the progressive lateral crystallization inside this film, finishing under the form of a non-periodic pattern of polygonal tablets of bio-aragonite. It is evidenced that nuclei appear in the film in the vicinity of the zone where aragonite tablets of the underlying layer get in contact to each other. A possible explanation is given to show how nucleation is probably launched in time and space by a signal coming from the underlying layer. Finally, it is evidenced that tablets form a Voronoi tiling of the space: this suggests that their growth is controlled by an "aggregation-like" process of "crystallites" and not directly by the aragonite lattice growth.

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