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Evolution of Biomineralization

Gert Wörheide

Biomineralization refers to the processes by which organisms form minerals under biological control. Skeletons of multicellular organisms are formed by a process called biologically controlled mineralization and are often integral and functional parts of the organisms – and skeletal remains are frequently the only tangible evidence of organisms that remain in the fossil record.

The highly (enzymatically) regulated process of biologically controlled mineralization is responsible for the production of materials such as bones, shells, and teeth, some of which show exceptional strength and beauty, often of high commercial value (i.e. pearls). Ongoing research investigates how organisms form their calcareous skeleton and which genetic mechanisms control mineral deposition. We are also interested in the evolutionary aspects of the diversification of calcareous biomineralization in the Metazoa.

The main research questions in this context include:

  • How and why do organisms calcify?
  • How did the capacity to form mineralized structures evolve?
  • Did the capacity to biomineralize evolve several times independently in animals or is there a core conserved "genetic toolkit"?
  • What was the evolution of biosynthetic pathways that enable animals to calcify?

Key publications

Jackson, D.J., Macis, L., Reitner, J., Degnan, B.M., Wörheide, G., 2007. Sponge Paleogenomics Reveals an Ancient Role for Carbonic Anhydrase in Skeletogenesis. Science 316 (5833), 1893–1895.

Sethmann, I., Helbig, U., Wörheide, G., 2007. Octocoral sclerite ultrastructures and experimental approach to underlying biomineralisation principles. CrystEngComm. Special Issue Biomineralization 9, 1262–1268.

Sethmann, I., Wörheide, G., 2008. Structure and composition of calcareous sponge spicules: A review and comparison to structurally related biominerals. Micron 39 (3), 209–228.

For more information see: www.mol-palaeo.de