It amazes me that I haven’t written anything since December 12th. In my defense, well…I can’t think of anything in my defense. At least nothing really good.
I did post, on January 2nd, the WordPress summary of my blog stats for 2010. Those stats make it abundantly clear that most people prefer my postings about animals, as opposed to my brilliant political analysis. What is the world coming to?
So today we will talk about the lowly chiton, a marine mollusk found all over the world. The occasion for this is an episode I heard last week on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Scientists, it seems, are busy doing their usual routine, which is waking up one morning and saying “I wonder why….” or “I wonder how…” or “What if…”. So a scientist at Northwestern University wondered how it is that squishy things like oysters make hard shells…or for that matter, how squishy things like humans make bones and teeth.
So he began studying chitons. Here is a pretty one:
On the other hand, here’s the one he studies:
So it turns out that chitons eat rocks. They still haven’t figured out the process by which that makes them able to form inorganic structures like shells, but if they can, they may be able to figure out how to make better artificial bones and teeth for people. (Aside: scientists can no longer just ask “I wonder what would happen if…” In order to get grant money or remain employed, you have to show that it has some potential benefits to humans. Pure curiousity and knowledge is no longer acceptable. Perhaps it never was. If you think about the great scientists of the past, they either financed themselves or had patrons. We humans are so egocentric. Sometimes I think we would be better off if dolphins took over the world.) This is apparently a relatively new branch of science called “biomaterials”. I immediately thought of spider webs. I wonder if anyone has yet figured out how to make something that strong? Of course, to build a building out of spider web material, you would need to bring the spider along to rebuild it overnight when a bird/frog/lizard smashes a hole in the web in the process of stealing your food.
It turns out that chitons have lots of teeth. Chiton teeth:
Perhaps as a side effect of munching on rocks, their teeth are self-sharpening. As NPR wryly noted, even if they don’t figure out the shell-producing process, it could be a big boon to the next generation of Ginsu knives. Coming soon to your late-night infomercial.
From NPR: Rock-Munching Mollusks.