Our group studies biomineralization in various biological systems. Two of these studies have been published in the prestige journal “Science“.

The crystallographic structure of vaterite, the least stable polymorph of calcium carbonate, has been a long subject of debate among scientists. A research done by our group on the spicules of Herdmania momus has discovered that vaterite is in fact composed of two different crystallographic structures, a major structure with hexagonal symmetry and another structure with yet unknown symmetry that coexists as nanodomains within the major structure. The coexistence of these two structures was found by means of High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy. These finding helped revealing the crystallographic structure of vaterite that has been a puzzle to scientists for over a century.

The brittle star Ophiocoma wendtii is able to detect predators and escape from them. This feature was remarkably puzzling to researchers since no visualization system was known in this specie. It was discovered in 2001 that this brittle star has a unique visualization system composed of an array of single crystal calcitic microlenses positioned on his armplates.

Figure 1. Electron microscopy. (A) HRSEM image showing an entire DAP and a higher magnification insert. (B) HRTEM in bright-field mode revealing brighter nanodomains, although the FFT pattern is that of a single crystal. Higher magnification (C) of an area in (B) shows a lattice image undisrupted by the nanodomains which demonstrate coherent interfaces with the lattice. The insert shows an electron diffraction image from this area.

These microlenses focus the light onto bundles of nerves located below them. In addition their axis is directed parallel to the lens’ optical axis to avoid birefringence. A research done by our group has found a unique and novel strategy for strengthening and toughening the microlenses of the brittle star Ophiocoma Wendtii. The above is achieved by the presence of Mg- rich nanoparticles that are coherent with the calcitic matrix. The presence of these nanoparticles induces compressive stresses into the matrix thus causing the whole structure to be pre- compressed. These findings were achieved using state- of- the- art techniques such as High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy and High Resolution Powder XRD using synchrotron radiation.


1. Pokroy B, Fitch AN, Zolotoyabko E. Structure of biogenic aragonite (CaCO3). Cryst Growth Des. 2007;7:1580.

2. Pokroy B, Fieramosca JS, Von Dreele RB, Fitch AN, Caspi EN, Zolotoyabko E. Atomic structure of biogenic aragonite. Chem Mater. 2007;19:3244.

3. Kabalah-Amitai L, Mayzel B, Kauffmann Y, Fitch AN, Bloch L, Gilbert PUPA, Pokroy B. Vaterite Crystals Contain Two Interspersed Crystal Structures. Science. 2013;340:454.

4. Pokroy B, Fitch AN, Marin F, Kapon M, Adir N, Zolotoyabko E. Anisotropic lattice distortions in biogenic calcite induced by intra-crystalline organic molecules. J Struct Biol. 2006;155:96.

5. Polishchuk I, Aronhime Bracha A, Bloch L, Levy D, Kozachkevich S, Etinger-Geller Y, Kauffmann Y, Burghammer M, Giacobbe C, Villanova J, Hendler G, Sun C Y, Giuffre A.J, Marcus M.A, Kundanati L, Zaslansky P, Pugno N.M, Gilbert Pupa U. P. A., Alex Katsman A and Pokroy B. Coherently aligned nanoparticles within a biogenic single crystal: A biological prestressing strategy. Science. 2017; 358:1294. Click here for FREE download.