Nature’s own crystallography: guanine

The white widow spider; a SEM micrograph with skin tissue.
Thu, 24.06.2021


There are many surprising applications for electron diffraction (ED), and we at ELDICO Scientific could not have been more thrilled than to discover such exciting examples through our sponsorship of the Erice International School of Crystallography poster competition. The organizers carefully selected a winner for the poster prize. Avital Wagner, a PhD student in the Dr. Benjamin Palmer Lab at Ben-Gurion University (Israel) won a sample measurement on ELDICO’s electron diffractometer to push her research further.

Avital has presented an excellent poster about crystallization of guanine crystals in white widow spiders, guanine being one of the bases in DNA and RNA. Some animals can grow crystals in-vivo and use them for an extraordinary variety of optical phenomena. For example, the white widow spiders use their excretion product guanine to grow nanocrystals in their skin tissues and scatter white light, which gives them the beautiful characteristic color.

Crystals obtained by biocrystallization in the cells of living organisms are often confined to submicrometric size, a problem many crystallographers (and not only) know so well. However, this is where a dedicated device for electron diffraction comes into play, as it seamlessly overcomes this specific crystal size challenge.

ED makes a synergy between biology and materials science possible, thus accelerating and unlocking the discovery of bioinspired metamaterials. In these controlled biospecific conditions, many unknown crystal phases can form and due to their minute size and quantity, they could only be discovered with the help of electron diffraction. ED is an emerging analytical technique providing so far unparalleled insight in the nano-scale.

Avital has won one day of measurement time on ELDICO’s electron diffractometer. She will investigate a sample that has open questions from her study. We at ELDICO are proud to support this fascinating research and are confident that we can come back with a follow-up to this exciting spider story.

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