Bloodworms Make Their Teeth From Metal And Now We Know How

3 mins read
Image Credit: Herbert Waite CC-By-SA

Worms have always been one of the most common fears among people. However, if they were not already terrifying, imagine there is an aggressive venomous worm species that has fangs built from copper. Well, you do not have to imagine it. This worm exists, and now we know how it makes its teeth.

A worm with metal teeth sounds like something taken out of a Sci-Fi movie. However, that is the case for a bloodworm member of the genus Glycera., whose teeth are composed of 10% copper crystals.

Their teeth can last up to five years without needing to be renewed. Thanks to these teeth, the bloodworms are capable of biting through the exoskeleton of other insects and injecting venom. The study published via Matter also suggests that the copper present in their teeth may have a role as a catalyst, speeding up the power of the venom.

Not many animals have been able to take advantage of solid metal due to how complicated it is to obtain and even harder to integrate into their jaws. However, bloodworms have been for such a long time they have discovered how to use the copper they find in the intertidal sediments where they live to their advantage.

According to Professor Hebert Waite of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and co-authors, bloodworms are capable of integrating copper into their teeth thanks to a “multi-tasking protein,” or, as they call it, an MTP. “We never expected a protein with such a simple composition, that is, mostly glycine and histidine, to perform this many functions and unrelated activities,” said Waite.

This multi-tasking protein allows the worm to get Cu2+ ions, which then causes the previously mentioned mixture to separate. Then, the pigment melanin formation is catalyzed and continues to be polymerized, which causes the protein to integrate the melanin and itself into films and fibers. Then, it creates a bridge between molecules using copper.

MTP is one of the three known methods that animals use to create hydrogels, including the processes that vertebrates – like humans – use to create cartilage and the ones that squids and octopuses conduct to create their beaks. This new discovery may be beneficial for industrial material synthesis.

Bloodworms are known for being extremely aggressive. In contrast, their skin is translucid, which makes it possible to see all of their body fluids easily. This species is capable of growing up to 35 centimeters (around 1.2 feet).

Waite and his team have been studying bloodworms for almost two decades. The professor says that he admires their “biological initiative.”

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