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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

1.4 trillion tiny pieces of gold make this jawbone.

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Scientists in Germany have added new strands of bone to pigs’ jaws. Just kidding: The precision of the way the scientists engineered the new jawbones is truly astonishing.

To prevent bone from brittle, the engineers generated each new tooth out of cow and pig fat (which, before starting the process, they had already extracted from the pigs, ground into solid gold). Each jawbone contains about 1,000 million of the solid particles, which that way the scientists can get really high levels of protein, which normally helps bone grow.

The jawbones are so long that the engineers had to use special tools to bend them into the precise shape they wanted. “They have pin holes that are about the size of our fingernails,” said Jan von Gunten, the chief engineer on the project and a professor of biomaterials and stem cells at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany.

The development of jawbones in pigs represents a long-term goal for von Gunten, who started on the project a decade ago and who developed these new jawbones in collaboration with the researchers from the Heinrich Hoffmann Institute for Biology in Freiburg, Germany.

“We wanted to create jaws for humans that are more than twice as long and equally strong as those in the animal kingdom,” von Gunten said. He started working on the project after he experienced the pain of an aortic aneurysm while working as a hand surgeon in a hospital. “Now a case like this ruins one’s day. A fracture is a day-to-day thing in the animal kingdom, but every day is a death sentence” in the human world, he said. “Humans are not that different from animals and the problem is that we can’t manufacture material so that we can patch them.”

This story first appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of The New York Times.

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