They discover why ants’ teeth cut like a scalpel

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Creatures as tiny as ants can bite or cut with such force and ease that this ability not only catches the attention of the victims of their bites, but also that of a group of scientists who investigated the composition of their teeth.

A study by a team from the University of Oregon, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and the US Department of Energy found that the strong teeth of these insects have a coating that contains zinc.

Precisely this metal is distributed over the surface of the layer that covers the teeth of insects, and not just ants, in a way that facilitates cutting and keeps these tiny tools, or weapons, sharp, reports a release of the PNNL.

And in case anyone is surprised by the word ‘teeth’ applied to ants, scientists have recalled that yes, these insects have teeth. They are structures technically called “mandibular teeth” because they are attached outside the mouth, they are made up of a network of material that strongly binds zinc atoms. The resulting effect is that more than 8% of the weight of the jaw corresponds to the zinc present.

Professor Robert Schofield, lead author of the research, has studied the jaws of ants and other insects for several years, but a real breakthrough came when the team was joined by PNNL materials scientist Arun Devaraj and his colleague Xiaoyue. Wang.

Devaraj contributed to the study an imaging technique known as atomic probe tomography that allowed studying the structure of the components of the teeth at the atomic level.

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Atomic probe tomography indicated that zinc is homogeneously distributed on a nanometric scale, reducing the force, energy and muscle mass required to puncture rigid materials by approximately two-thirds, suggests the study published in the journal. Scientific Reports.

“Human engineers could also learn from this biological trick,” Schofield noted. “The hardness of ants’ teeth, for example, increases from roughly the hardness of plastic to the hardness of aluminum when zinc is added,” he said.

“Exploring nature is a way of understanding what makes materials stronger and more resistant to deterioration,” added Devaraj.

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