Snail in shining armor

A deep-sea snail wears a multi-layered suit of armor, complete with iron, new research shows. Dissecting details of the shell’s structure could inspire tough new materials for use in everything from body armor to scratch-free paint.

“If you look at the individual properties of the bits and pieces that go into making this shell, they’re not very impressive,” comments Robert Ritchie of the University of California, Berkeley. “But the overall thing is.”

The snail, called the scaly-foot gastropod, was discovered nearly a decade ago living in a hydrothermal vent field in the Indian Ocean. In its daily life, the snail encounters extreme temperatures, high pressures and high acidity levels that threaten to dissolve its protective shell. Worse, it is hunted by crabs that try to crush the mollusk between strong claws.

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