Limpets' teeth set new strength record

Limpet teeth beat spider webs as the strongest known biological material. But what are the strongest substances on Earth?

For years, spiders' silk was thought to be the strongest biological substance on Earth, but now there is a new contender for that crown: the teeth of limpets.

Engineers in the UK have discovered that the tiny teeth found on the tongues of limpets are harder than almost all human-made materials.

Scientists tested small fragments of the aquatic snails' teeth in a laboratory and found that they are composed of a mineral-protein composite which has, on average, a strength of around five gigapascals – approximately five times greater than most spiders' silk.

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The findings, which were published in the Royal Society's journal Interface, are potentially revolutionary. The structure of limpet teeth could be copied and used in everything from the construction of racing cars and boat hulls to dental fillings, the BBC reports.

"Biology is a great source of inspiration as an engineer," said the study's lead author Dr Asa Barber of the University of Portsmouth. "These teeth are made up of very small fibres, put together in a particular way – and we should be thinking about making our own structures following the same design principles."

The teeth of the common limpet, which is found in the seas around Britain and across western Europe, “need to be mechanically robust and avoid catastrophic failure when rasping over rock surfaces during feeding,” researchers said.

The teeth were so hard that researchers had to cut them down with a diamond saw and then bombard them with atoms from an ion beam to break them down further.

The study concluded: "The tensile strength of limpet teeth can reach values significantly higher than spider silk, considered to be currently the strongest biological material, and only comparable to the strongest commercial carbon fibres."

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