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J Struct Biol. 2015 Jun;190(3):291-303. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2015.04.014. Epub 2015 Apr 28.

Amorphous calcium carbonate controls avian eggshell mineralization: A new paradigm for understanding rapid eggshell calcification.

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Departmento de Mineralogia y Petrologia, Universidad de Granada, 18071 Granada, Spain. Electronic address:
INRA, UR83 Recherches Avicoles, F-37380 Nouzilly, France.
Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa K1H 8M5, Canada.


Avian eggshell mineralization is the fastest biogenic calcification process known in nature. How this is achieved while producing a highly crystalline material composed of large calcite columnar single crystals remains largely unknown. Here we report that eggshell mineral originates from the accumulation of flat disk-shaped amorphous calcium carbonate (ACC) particles on specific organic sites on the eggshell membrane, which are rich in proteins and sulfated proteoglycans. These structures known as mammillary cores promote the nucleation and stabilization of a amorphous calcium carbonate with calcitic short range order which predetermine the calcite composition of the mature eggshell. The amorphous nature of the precursor phase was confirmed by the diffuse scattering of X-rays and electrons. The nascent calcitic short-range order of this transient mineral phase was revealed by infrared spectroscopy and HRTEM. The ACC mineral deposited around the mammillary core sites progressively transforms directly into calcite crystals without the occurrence of any intermediate phase. Ionic speciation data suggest that the uterine fluid is equilibrated with amorphous calcium carbonate, throughout the duration of eggshell mineralization process, supporting that this mineral phase is constantly forming at the shell mineralization front. On the other hand, the transient amorphous calcium carbonate mineral deposits, as well as the calcite crystals into which they are converted, form by the ordered aggregation of nanoparticles that support the rapid mineralization of the eggshell. The results of this study alter our current understanding of avian eggshell calcification and provide new insights into the genesis and formation of calcium carbonate biominerals in vertebrates.


Amorphous calcium carbonate; Biomineralization; Calcite; Eggshell; Laying hens

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