Robert Schofield and his colleagues have found out the secret of the structure of ant teeth: it’s all about the specific structure of metal ions.
The authors of the new work found that metal ions are evenly distributed in the mandibles: they allow you to apply less effort when biting than tooth enamel, in which metals form separate clusters.
The jaws of insects are also called mandibles, they are needed to gnaw food and defend themselves from attacks.
Additional thickenings and teeth are often located at the anterior margin of the mandibles. These structures are formed by a combination of protein and carbohydrate polymers with an abundant inclusion of metals: zinc, as well as manganese, copper, and iron.
The authors of the new work decided to study the structure of ant mandibles in order to use this information for other useful mechanisms. To establish the atomic structure of ant mandibles, they performed atomic probe tomography. In this case, a thin tip is separated from the sample, which is used as a tip to which a high voltage is applied. Detached ions are recorded by a detector, allowing the structure of the original sample to be reconstructed with atomic precision.
As a result, it was found that zinc ions in ant mandibles are distributed almost evenly and are very tightly bound to amino acid residues of neighboring proteins.
It is this structure that allows you to maintain a clear shape of the surface of the ant mandibles. This structural feature allows you to apply almost two-thirds less effort to gnaw pieces of food, compared, for example, with human tooth enamel.