Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-02-biology-materials.html#jCp
In nature, some organisms create their own mineralized body parts—such as bone, teeth and shells—from sources they find readily available in their environment. Certain sea creatures, for example, construct their shells from calcium carbonate crystals they build from ions found in the ocean.
"The organism takes brittle carbonate and turns it into a structural shape that protects it from predators, and from being bashed against the rocks," says Lara Estroff, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Cornell University. "There is much scientific interest in how the organism controls the crystal growth, and what mechanisms are involved in strengthening and toughening the shells, especially in comparison to their components, which are brittle."
Researchers such as Estroff are very interested in synthesizing this kind of biology in the lab, and creating new organic and inorganic materials that mimic the "biomineralization" that occurs in nature, so they can gain a better understanding of how these natural processes work.