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  1. #1

    Default Interesting Article on Proteins and Nacre

    Pearl-Producing Proteins Uncovered
    Eric Bland, Discovery News

    Aug. 14, 2009 -- The iridescent beauty of pearl and nacre, the material found inside the shells of clams, oysters and other mollusks, would likely be impossible without two new proteins recently discovered by Japanese scientists.

    The discovery could allow for the production of larger pearls in less time.

    Pearl and nacre, also known as mother of pearl, have been used as decorations for millennia. In recent years, scientists have discovered the physical structure responsible for their valuable iridescence, the minerals that make up those structures, and the proteins that hold those minerals together.

    What science has failed to find, however, are the proteins that actually produce pearls. The Japanese researchers set out to find those missing proteins.

    By infecting Japanese pearl oysters with an engineered virus specifically designed to reduce the amount of the newly discovered proteins, the scientists essentially stopped pearls from forming.

    "This is really fundamental research," said Nils Kroger, a scientist at the University of Georgia who wrote an accompanying article in the journal Science. "The mollusk shells looked much more disorganized, not the nice structured layers you would normally expect."

    By washing nacre with distilled water and using gold nanoparticles tipped with antibodies, the Japanese scientists discovered two new proteins, Pif 80 and Pif 97, which appeared to be crucial for building nacre.

    Pif 97, the scientists suspect, creates a basic template of what the nacre should look like using chitin, the same material lobsters and crayfish use to build their exoskeleton. Pif 80 binds calcium and bicarbonate to the chitin, finishing the nacre.

    To test this theory that these proteins actually produced pearls, the Japanese scientists tried to eliminate the two proteins from Japanese pearl oysters. Using a genetically engineered virus, the scientists were able to reduce the amount of Pif 80 and Pif 97 by about 40 percent when compared with control oysters.

    Six days later, the oysters had produced virtually no new nacre. The nacre that they did manage to develop was abnormal and misshapen on a microscopic level. To the human eye, the lackluster structure wouldn't have been apparent.

    "If we rear the oyster for a longer period, the luster of the nacreous layer might be decreased, because the surface of the nacreous layer becomes more irregular," said Hiromichi Nagasawa, a scientist at the University of Tokyo and co-author of the Science paper.

    Although discovering the proteins responsible for producing pearls is a good start, more work needs the work can be applied. If eliminating Pif 80 and Pif 97 stopped nacre formation, then increasing the amount of the two proteins should speed up pearl production -- a possibility the Japanese scientists are currently exploring.
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  2. #2
    First-graft Pearl Senior Guide Member Ramona's Avatar
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    This sounds very interesting. Was this published in Science? I know little about pearl production, but I always wondered whether nacre secretion could be artificially induced. I saw several articles published about the Japanese efforts, but thought they stopped doing this. Nanoparticles with secreted factors could replace the implanted tissue. Pearl color would then be the next step.

  3. #3

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    Yes, the article was on Discovery Channel news Website today.

    It is undoubtedly amazing what is researched and discovered. Sounds like it is still pretty far away from becoming a reality but nonetheless interesting.
    Steve and Jacqui
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  5. #5
    Pearl Maven Senior Pearl-Guide.com Pearl Expert Caitlin's Avatar
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    Thanks!!
    I can't tell you how wonderful it is when someone comes up with an article like this. Yippee!
    I always wondered whether nacre secretion could be artificially induced
    Not inside the mollusk, but we also had a article linked over here that scientists has produced artificial nacre and thought it could be used in cars, countertops, etc, because it is so tough and resilient compared to plastic.
    Caitlin

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  6. #6
    First-graft Pearl Senior Guide Member Ramona's Avatar
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    It may also be useful as a bone substitute. I read it is nonallergenic.

  7. #7
    First-graft Pearl Senior Guide Member Ramona's Avatar
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    The article may also be available here for today:

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/rapidpdf/1173793v1

    But if I understand the reason for grafting tissue correctly, thenn this is done to induce nacre secretion, i.e. what the two proteins in this article are supposed to do. That means there must be secreted factors coming from the graft that induce nacre secretion?

  8. #8
    Rare Pearl Senior Pearl-Guide.com Pearl Expert
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    I think this is known to be the case, Ramona. It would have been even more of a thrill if the experiment described in the article, had involved grafting, wouldn't it!

    Vorba multa - saracia omului.
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  9. #9
    First-graft Pearl Senior Guide Member Ramona's Avatar
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    I am in! Would be a nice project.

  10. #10
    Second-graft Pearl Senior Guide Member Mervione's Avatar
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    That is great! Hopefully it will mean cheaper pearls in the future. Or all nacre akoyas?!
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