Species-specific shells: Chitin synthases and cell mechanics in molluscs

The size, morphology and species-specific texture of mollusc shell biominerals is one of the unresolved questions in nature. In search of molecular control principles, chitin has been identified by Weiner and Traub (FEBS Lett. 1980, 111 : 311-316) as one of the organic compounds with a defined co-organization with mineral phases. Chitin fibers can be aligned with certain mineralogical axes of crystalline calcium carbonate in a speciesspecific manner. These original observations motivated the functional characterization of chitin forming enzymes in molluscs. The full-length cDNA cloning of mollusc chitin synthases identified unique myosin domains as part of the biological control system. The potential impact of molecular motors and other conserved domains of these complex transmembrane enzymes on the evolution of shell biomineralization is investigated and discussed in this article.