The minerals involved in the formation of metazoan skeletons principally comprise glassy silica, calcium phosphate or carbonate. Because of their ancient heritage, glass sponges (Hexactinellida) may shed light on fundamental questions such as molecular evolution, the unique chemistry and formation of the first skeletal silica-based structures, and the origin of multicellular animals. We have studied anchoring spicules from the metre-long stalk of the glass rope sponge (Hyalonema sieboldi; Porifera, Class Hexactinellida), which are remarkable for their size, durability, flexibility and optical properties. Using slow-alkali etching of biosilica, we isolated the organic fraction, which was revealed to be dominated by a hydroxylated fibrillar collagen that contains an unusual [Gly-3Hyp-4Hyp] motif. We speculate that this motif is predisposed for silica precipitation, and provides a novel template for biosilicification in nature.
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