Researchers Try to Explain How Perfect Pearls Form

Jun 20, 2013 by

According to scientists writing in the journal Langmuir, the mystery of how pearls form into the most perfectly spherical large objects in nature may have an unlikely explanation.

White pearl necklace (Tanakawho / CC BY 2.0)

White pearl necklace (Tanakawho / CC BY 2.0)

Dr Julyan Cartwright from the CSIC – Universidad de Granada in Spain and colleagues point out that the most flawless and highly prized pearls have perhaps the most perfectly spherical, or ball-like, shape among all the objects in nature that are visible without a microscope.

Pearls develop as nacre and other liquids accumulate around grains of sand or other foreign objects inside certain oysters and other shellfish.

“But how do pearls grow into such perfect spheres?”

“The answer may be relatively simple — with developing pearls having a saw-toothed, or ratchet-like, surface,” Dr Cartwright and his colleagues said.

That texture generates forces that make the pearl turn inside the oyster’s tissues in response to movements in the environment.

“The result is a spherical build-up of nacre and other textures. Rotating pearls are a perhaps unique example of a natural ratchet,” the scientists concluded.


Bibliographic information: Julyan H. E. Cartwright et al. Pearls Are Self-Organized Natural Ratchets. Langmuir, published online May 31, 2013; doi: 10.1021/la4014202