Biomineralisation by earthworms – an investigation into the stability and distribution of amorphous calcium carbonate
In this study, we investigated the microstructural transformations that take place during carbonate formation in the earthworm's calciferous gland by analysing the evolution from the precursor fluid of the solid phases (spherulites) to the final carbonate concretions released by the gland. Results from HREM and electron diffraction showed that the spherulithic deposits merely consisted of ACC partially transformed to vaterite. Furthermore, comparisons of the diffraction spectra and microstructural analyses allowed the identification of the transition sequences to more stable carbonates. And thus, transformations of ACC to calcite were observed on the surfaces of these amorphous globular aggregates as their smooth characteristic surface became rougher with time. This transition path was not unique, and the presence of aragonite, as an intermediate phase, has also been found. In this particular case, the transition process followed a completely different pathway with the crystallization starting in the centre of the sphere and progressively extending to the periphery, leading to the formation of radial aggregates. In situ experiments performed on the freshly extracted precursor fluid and analysed by FT-IR spectroscopy showed that ACC is the main constituent and is probably stabilised by macromolecules such as proteins and sugars. Furthermore, the Debye-Scherrer diffraction experiments showed that the carbonate phase present in this fluid remains stable as ACC for more than a week. All these features are indicative of this entire process being biologically controlled by the earthworms. The analysis of the amorphous structure factor of this ACC indicates that these transformations are preceded by short-range order modifications of the amorphous precursor phase.