Sponges are an ancient life form, whose fossils go back half a billion years. Incredibly, one group of marine sponges maintains skeletal structures, called spicules, that are made of glass. They help protect the sponge as well as providing physical and mechanical strength.
Scientists wanted to know more about how the glass spicules are formed, a matter that has been debated. The scientists utilized a technique called x-ray nanotomography; it creates a three-dimensional model of an object without destroying it by taking many x-ray cross-sections.
That showed the investigators that the type of protein that makes up the spicule also determines its ultimate shape, which could be a spiky sphere, or might be thin needles. The work could help researchers figure out a new way to manipulate glass that does not require high heat, and that would make the production of solar cells and electronics easier.