Transformation mechanism of amorphous calcium carbonate into calcite in the sea urchin larval spicule
Sea urchin larval spicules transform amorphous calcium carbonate (ACC) into calcite single crystals. The mechanism of transformation is enigmatic: the transforming spicule displays both amorphous and crystalline properties, with no defined crystallization front. Here, we use X-ray photoelectron emission spectromicroscopy with probing size of 40-200 nm. We resolve 3 distinct mineral phases: An initial short-lived, presumably hydrated ACC phase, followed by an intermediate transient form of ACC, and finally the biogenic crystalline calcite phase. The amorphous and crystalline phases are juxtaposed, often appearing in adjacent sites at a scale of tens of nanometers. We propose that the amorphous-crystal transformation propagates in a tortuous path through preexisting 40- to 100-nm amorphous units, via a secondary nucleation mechanism.