A major role of lobster integument is protection from microbes. Calcite and amorphous calcium carbonate are the most abundant and most acid vulnerable of the cuticle minerals. We propose that calcite is invested in neutralizing an acidifying environment modulated by the epicuticle. A minor cuticle component is carbonate apatite (CAP), proposed to play critical roles in the integument’s structural protective function. The CAP of lobster exhibits a flexible composition; its least soluble forms line the cuticular canals most exposed to the environment. A trabecular CAP structure illustrates efficient use of a sparse phosphate resource, cooperating in the hardness of the inner exocuticle. A schematic model of the cuticle emphasizes structural and chemical diversity. A thin outer calcite layer provides a dense microbial barrier that dissolves slowly through the epicuticle, providing an external, alkaline, unstirred layer that would be inhibitory to bacterial movement and metabolism. Injury to the epicuticle covering this mineralized surface unleashes an immediate efflux of carbonate, accentuating the normal alkalinity of an antimicrobial unstirred layer. The trabecular CAP inner exocuticle provides rigidity to prevent bending and cracking of the calcite outer exocuticle. The combined mineral fine structure of lobster cuticle supports antimicrobial function as well as plays a structural protective role.
Kunkel J. G., Nagel W. & Jercinovic M. J., 2012. Mineral fine structure of the American lobster cuticle. Journal of Shellfish Research 31(2): 515-526. Article (subscription required).