The gumboot chiton is not a glamorous creature. The large, lumpy mollusk creeps along the waters of the Pacific coast, pulling its reddish-brown body up and down the shoreline. It is sometimes known, not unreasonably, as “the wandering meatloaf.” But the chiton’s unassuming body hides an array of tiny but formidable teeth. These teeth, which the creature uses to scrape algae from rocks, are among the hardest materials known to exist in a living organism.
Now, a team of scientists has discovered a surprising ingredient in the chiton’s rock-hard dentition: a rare, iron-based mineral that previously had been found only