Carboxylated molecules regulate magnesium content of amorphous calcium carbonates during calcification

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With the realization that many calcified skeletons form by processes involving a precursor phase of amorphous calcium carbonate (ACC), a new paradigm for mineralization is emerging. There is evidence the Mg content in biogenic ACC is regulated by carboxylated (acidic) proteins and other macromolecules, but the physical basis for such a process is unknown. We test the hypothesis that ACC compositions express a systematic relationship to the chemistry of carboxyl-rich biomolecules. A series of inorganic control experiments were conducted to establish the dependence of Mg/Ca ratios in ACC on solution composition. We then determined the influence of a suite of simple carboxylated organic acids on Mg content. Molecules with a strong affinity for binding Ca compared with Mg promote the formation of Mg-enriched ACC that is compositionally equivalent to high-magnesium calcites and dolomite. Measurements show Mg/Ca ratios are controlled by a predictable dependence upon the binding properties of the organic molecules. The trend appears rooted in the conformation and electrostatic potential topology of each molecule, but dynamic factors also may be involved. The dependence suggests a physical basis for reports that specific sequences of calcifying proteins are critical to modulating mineralization. Insights from this study may provide a plausible explanation for why some biogenic carbonates and carbonaceous cements often contain higher Mg signatures than those that are possible by classical crystal growth processes. The findings reiterate the controls of microenvironment on mineralization and suggest an origin of compositional offsets, or vital effects, long recognized by the paleoclimate community.




Wang, D., Wallace, A. F., De Yoreo, J. J., & Dovea, P. M. (2009). Carboxylated molecules regulate magnesium content of amorphous calcium carbonates during calcification. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(51), 21511–21516.

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