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Bone Goo

April 2, 2014

A gel-like substance, packed between the nano-scale mineral crystals in bone, helps to keep it from shattering.



Human bones’ gooey secret. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Larousse, 1922.

Larousse, 1922.

Our bones contain a previously undetected, goopy gel that acts as a shock absorber. This according to a team of British scientists, led by University of Cambridge chemist Melinda Duer. She says the fluid occupies the incredibly tiny spaces between brittle mineral crystals. It’s a mixture of water and a spidery molecule called citrate that binds to the calcium crystals.

MELINDA DUER (University of Cambridge, England):

So we think that the citrate-water mix enables the mineral crystals to slide over each other every time you put a force on your bone, and allows those crystals to withstand the very big forces that you put on your bones every time you walk or jump or run.

It took four years of high-tech analysis to figure this out. Duer says the discovery could shift the focus of treating bone diseases to replacing not just the minerals, but also the fluid that cushions them. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.