Polymorphs, proteins, and nucleation theory: A critical analysis

John Spencer Evans

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Over the last eight years newtheories regarding nucleation, crystal growth, and polymorphism have emerged. Many of these theories were developed in response to observations in nature, where classical nucleation theory failed to account for amorphous mineral precursors, phases, and particle assembly processes that are responsible for the formation of invertebrate mineralized skeletal elements, such as the mollusk shell nacre layer (aragonite polymorph) and the sea urchin spicule (calcite polymorph). Here, we summarize these existing nucleation theories and place them within the context of what we know about biomineralization proteins, which are likely participants in the management of mineral precursor formation, stabilization, and assembly into polymorphs. With few exceptions, much of the protein literature confirms that polymorph-specific proteins, such as those from mollusk shell nacre aragonite, can promote polymorph formation. However, past studies fail to provide important mechanistic insights into this process, owing to variations in techniques, methodologies, and the lack of standardization in mineral assay experimentation. We propose that the way forward past this roadblock is for the protein community to adopt standardized nucleation assays and approaches that are compatible with current and emerging nucleation precursor studies. This will allow cross-comparisons, kinetic observations, and hopefully provide the information that will explain how proteins manage polymorph formation and stabilization.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number62
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Apr 21 2017


    • Aragonite
    • Biomineralization
    • Calcite
    • Classical nucleation theory
    • Crystallization by particle attachment
    • Mollusk
    • Non-classical nucleation
    • Polymorphs
    • Proteins
    • Sea urchin
    • Vaterite

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
    • Geology


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