Tag: science

What’s tougher than a diamond? You’ll never guess!

Our recent gemstone spotlight, featuring Jade, inspired us to dig a little deeper into what exactly the Mohs Hardness Scale is, and also the difference between hardness and toughness. Jade is a very tough stone, but not a very hard stone. In ancient times, it was used to create weapons and other tools, yet only falls between 6 and 7 on the Mohs scale.
How could that be? The answer is that toughness and hardness are not the same. Hardness (which is measured on the Mohs scale) determines how easily a mineral can be scratched, while toughness judges its ability to withstand breakage, as from a fall or impact with another object.

A guide to the Mohs scale

While the Mohs Scale consists of a numerical scale of 1-10, the toughness scale is a little less specific. There is not yet a standardized test for measuring toughness, and minerals are graded on a scale of Exceptional, Excellent, Good, Fair, or Poor.

Diamonds, which are commonly known as the hardest natural mineral, sit at a solid 10 on the Mohs scale. However, they only rank as far as “Good” on the toughness scale. Jade, however, ranks as “Exceptional” and is therefore considered to be tougher than a diamond, although it sits at a 6-7 on the Mohs scale. GemSociety.org uses the comparison of wood vs. glass to help you remember the difference between toughness and hardness. Glass is very hard and can easily scratch wood, but wood is very tough, so if you bang a piece of glass and a piece of wood together the glass is more likely to be broken by the piece of wood.

With this logic, diamonds can easily scratch jade, but what happens if you whack a piece of jadeite and a piece of diamond together? The diamond could crack, but your jade will probably come away a little bruised, but not too much worse for the wear. Now you know!

 

Sources:
https://www.gemsociety.org/article/gemstones-tough-hard/
http://www.firemountaingems.com/resources/encyclobeadia/charts/68ag
http://geology.com/minerals/mohs-hardness-scale.shtml

 


Red Algal Bloom

Pearly Whirly Pearl Fact: Never Eat Oysters During These Months

Have you ever heard that you should only eat oysters in months with names that include the letter “R”? Turns out, there’s truth to the tale!

So why should you avoid eating local oysters in the months of May, June, July, and August?

Oysters are filter feeders that eat algae and plankton and are susceptible to a very specific type of algal bloom, or “Red Tide” that can occur during warmer months of the year. A buildup of toxins in the oyster’s tissue as a result of this algae can be harmful to humans.

So what’s an oyster lover to do?

The answer is actually quite simple. While this old rule is a word to the wise for those of us who like to gather our own oysters to eat from rivers and oceans, it doesn’t usually apply to commercially available oysters, which are strictly regulated by the U.S. government. You can rest assured that your favorite oyster joint is probably serving oysters that are algae free and delicious. Slurp!

Medicinal Pearls

flowers-pearls

Pearls, surprisingly enough, aren’t just useful for their good looks! In fact, they have been used in medicines for centuries.

The earliest report of this came from two different sources in the 13th Century. A German monk, Albertus Magnus, stated that pearls could heal mental diseases, love sickness, hemorrahage and dysentery. Alfonso the Learned, the King of Castile believed that pearls as medicine cleaned and purified the blood, and recommended it for fighting depression, or any ailment caused by sadness or timidness.

Pearls dissolving in vinegar
Pearls dissolving in vinegar

In the 17th century, an elixir called ‘Aqua Perlata’ was recommended for restoring strength and combatting fevers. It claimed to be almost strong enough for “resuscitating the dead.” This medicine contained pearls disolved in vinegar (or lemon juice). Once the pearls dissolved, fresh lemon juice was added, then the mixture was decanted into a new container where a touch of strawberry, rose water, cinnamon water, and borage flowers were added. It was sweetened with sugar as needed. It was recommended to cover the top of the glass when drinking Aqua Perlata, so as to not let any of the essence escape.

A substance called Gascoigne’s Powder was used well into the 19th century. The chemical make-up of it changed a few times, but it generally required pearls, crab’s eyes, and coral.

One legend states that placing a pearl in your bellybutton could actually cure stomach disorders.

Mikimoto himself, the man accredited with creating the process for culturing pearls, ate two pearls a day for his health.

But is all this “pearls as medicine” stuff really so crazy? In fact, pearls contain a variety of amino acids, proteins,and calcium. Concoctions such as Aqua Perlata likely worked because of the high content of Vitamin C in the juice and calcium in the pearls. And as for Alfonso the Learned’s theory, we can get behind the idea that pearls can fight sadness – our pearls sure make us happy!

Pearl Powder

Even today, pearls are still used in modern medicine. While it is not common in the Western world, countries such as China, India, and Japan have been using pearls medicinally for many years and continue to do so. Pearls that are lower than gem quality are commonly ground up and used as pharmaceutical calcium powder. “Pearl powder” is very common in Chinese medicine. Ground pearls are used as skin treatment to cure acne, reduce signs of aging, and even the complexion. It is also approved by China’s FDA for internal use, where the benefits are said to be that is builds up your immune system by preventing diseases, promotes tissue regeneration, improves vision, stops convulsions, and calms the mind.

You may want to think twice before gnawing on your strand of pearls, however. Oysters are filter feeders and these tiny animals are nature’s vacuums, cleaning toxins like mercury out of the water as they eat plankton and algae. These toxins may be stored up in their shells and in the proteins that make up the nacre of their pearls. While there may be some benefits to ingesting pearls, they might be outweighed by the ill effects. We’d recommend popping a calcium pill instead and saving the pearls for artful adornment.

Read more!

The Secret Metaphysical and Healing Properties of Pearls

Pearly Whirly Pearl Fact: Pearls as Medicine

Sources:

The book of the pearl: the history, art, science, and industry of the queen of gems
By George Frederick Kunz, Charles Hugh Stevenson

http://fsommers.com/pearls-in-medicine-some-anecdotes/

http://www.karipearls.com/medicine.html

http://www.pearl-guide.com/forum/content.php?r=108-Pearls-and-Medicine

A Gem From an Unlikely Source

Peanut Butter Diamonds
Photo from Steve Jurvetson and Certified Su Via Flickr

We’ve all heard of chocolate diamonds, but what about peanut butter diamonds?! Unlike chocolate diamonds, which are named for their color, peanut butter diamonds are actually created from sticky, delicious peanut butter.

Scientist Dan Frost of the University of Bayreuth, Germany, was conducting some experiments to try and learn more about the inner workings of our Earth’s mantle, which happens to be where diamonds are formed. In doing this, he recreated the high temperature and pressure seen well over 800 miles below Earth’s surface. Previous research exists supporting that many carbon-containing materials (which gives us a very broad spectrum of possibilities) can be used to synthetically create diamonds.

In Frost’s experiment, he placed a small amount of peanut butter in between two diamonds within a chamber, then used heat and pressure conditions similar to those found within the earth’s mantle. These conditions began to arrange the carbon atoms in the peanut butter into a more dense configuration. The scientist then bombarded his experiment with sound waves to imitate seismic waves. The whole process took a considerable amount of time and only yielded a stone smaller than .25 carats, but provided a lot of great scientific knowledge.

Rather than using this method to create jewelry quality diamonds, Frost plans to use this knowledge to learn more about the conditions under which the Earth was formed. Using similar methods, specialized diamonds can also be formed for use in lasers and other precision instruments. Adding different elements to the carbon source used to create synthetic diamonds could create stones that are even more suitable for use in industrial applications such as semiconductors. Cool!

sources:

http://mentalfloss.com/article/60004/scientist-turns-peanut-butter-diamonds

http://www.iflscience.com/environment/scientist-creates-diamonds-peanut-butter

Angry Ocean

Winds, Waves, and Wonders: Is There Room for Pearls in a Changing World?

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

While the pearl as a gem is one of the oldest jewels known to man, the pearl industry in its currently recognizable form came about only in the last century with the advent of improved pearl culturing methods that made it possible to produce these lovely trinkets on a scale fit for the masses.

While the sudden glut of inexpensive cultured pearls sent the centuries-old natural pearl market into a tailspin, a new buyer appeared. The solidly middle-class families of post-WWII America, newly solvent and looking to make their mark on the world of fashion by keeping up with the Joneses, were at once fascinated by the exotic provenance and mystery of the pearls they saw adorning the necks of Hollywood’s darlings, and charmed by the clever marketing schemes of sellers determined to convince them of the value of gems previously considered counterfeits. Not only did this glamorous gem catch the eye of Americans, the pearl industry began to boom all over the world. Growing economies made for perfect consumers, and today, pearls make up a significant portion of the jewelry market worldwide. In fact, Australia is the leading country in pearl production. In Western Australia alone, the total allowable annual catch of oysters per licensed pearl production company is 572,000 oysters, equaling over $200 million dollars’ worth of pearls!

50s Style

Post-War, business was booming, but not without repercussions to ancient oyster beds, which were rapidly depleted by the sudden demand. Oyster species that ordinarily took several years to mature were now being forced to produce pearls faster and more frequently, leading oyster farmers to breed stock with shells so weak they were flexible to the touch. Due to pollution, over farming, industrialization, and other factors from man made activities, water quality in many marine oyster environments was slipping. These animals are very sensitive, and productivity dropped drastically. Many pearl farmers in coastal China were forced to take their business to cleaner waters in other countries. From this turmoil, the Chinese freshwater pearl business began to grow and become more prominent.

Initially, cultured pearls from China were created from the irritant being implanted into the animal at one year of age. Eventually, in order to increase quality, they made a few changes, including switching the species of mollusk used and waiting until they were two and a half, rather than one year old. These freshwater mussels are raised in former rice paddies that have been flooded to create lakes for pearl farming. They enrich these lakes with manure to increase algae growth, on which the mussels feed. They also add filter-feeding carp to the environment to filter out phytoplankton and prevent algal blooms. This increases the quality of the food source for the mussels. The aim is to raise healthy animals so that they can continue to produce quality gems. However, sometimes the artificially created ecosystem does not function as well as was intended. A few years ago, mussel farming was banned in one province of China due to concerns from questionable levels of manure content in the paddies. While the mussels do benefit from the steps taken to build their habitat, it must be monitored and the water must be kept clean. Just as the lakes the mussels are raised in are affected by outside sources such as pollution, construction, and waste, the surrounding ecosystems are effected by the pearl farms. One pearl farmer was quoted as saying “We must keep a Confucian balance with nature.”

Pearl Farm in Zhuji

 

Chinese pearl farmers may use as many as 10 irritants per mollusk, where many other countries (particularly when producing saltwater pearls) only use 1-2 irritants. In fact, by 2015, it is predicted that China will surpass Australia as the leader in pearl production worldwide. Because they can turn out so many pearls, they sell them at a much lower cost. This has raised fears among other countries that the pearl industry as a whole may become endangered. Chinese workers in pearl farms make a low wage of $15 – $23 a day. Looking to reduce costs even further, some Chinese companies are developing pearl-sorting machines rather than having them chosen and placed with similar pearls by hand. These machines take pictures of the pearl from every angle as it drops, then catches the gem and evaluates it based on size, luster and imperfections. It automatically assigns the pearl to a bin in which it will be kept with similar pearls. As these machines can run day and night and work quickly, they will be able to replace around 15 human workers per machine. This hurts the job market for individuals working in pearl production, and could have drastic effects on the Chinese economy.

Sorting Pearls in China

You could imagine that with such a constantly growing, worldwide industry, there are a lot of people on our planet who are affected by pearl production. Let’s look at French Polynesia, a small group of islands that makes a good bit of its livelihood from pearl farming. Much of their revenue comes from international exports, and 55% of their exports in 2008 were black Tahitian pearls. An estimated 4,000 persons in French Polynesia live from pearl farming, with much of this industry being made up of family-owned businesses.

This booming industry has led to a decrease in emigration from the Gambier and Tuamotu archipelagos to Tahiti, which is what many young people had to do in order to find work previously. Consequently, both the populations of these small islands and the quality of living have increased sufficiently to allow many people to remain living on the islands of their birth. Social and health benefits have arisen from this as well, as many inhabitants of the region enjoy the kind of outdoor physical work provided from pearl farming, as it provides a way of life close to the traditional activities of the population.

On the flip side, not all family-owned pearl farming operations are successful. Many families who try to get into the business without knowledge of entrepreneurship go bankrupt when they are unable to pay back their small business loans. Socially, this creates inequalities among the population, as on some islands the pearl business is booming and on some it is nearly impossible to produce pearls. Some families who are successfully producing pearls are producing low quality jewels and marketing them poorly, leading to many big producers pushing for more regulations on pearl farming in the islands. Also, many local families of the smaller islands face competition from non-locals who have taken over pearl farming on the main island of Tahiti. In addition to local competition, the value of the Tahitian pearl market is being challenged by pearl production companies worldwide, particularly from Chinese freshwater pearls. As Chinese pearls are more cheaply produced, they sell for a much, much lower wholesale cost than saltwater Tahitian pearls. The majority of the buying market would rather buy freshwater pearls at a third of the cost of a similar Tahitian strand.

Tahitian Pearling

Although the competition may be tough, the pearl industry on the French Polynesian islands is still a major point of production on a global scale. In the words of Laurent Cartier, an environmental science Ph.D. who did some work on a research paper on sustainability of pearls, “In the long run, only those producers who work in ecologically responsible ways will continue to produce top-quality pearls.” Cartier believes that the methods used by Chinese pearl farmers can over crowd the mollusks, and ultimately thinks that saltwater pearl farming tends to use more environmentally conscious methods. Kamoka Pearl, one French Polynesian family-owned pearl farm, tells National Geographic about their efforts to remain environmentally conscious in an article published this year. The oysters are kept loosely packed into nets within the lagoon that they are harvested from, in order to be watched over and kept track of by pearl farmers.

A problem that oyster farmers face by keeping them this way is that they then begin to grow barnacles and other organisms on their shells. In order to keep the oyster growing at a normal and healthy rate, and therefore producing high quality pearls, these growths must be cleaned. There are several ways to effectively clean an oyster. The most common method is bringing the nets out of the water and spraying them with a high pressure hose. This is inexpensive and effective, but creates a large amount of organic matter in the water. This decreases the water quality, because it becomes to much for the fish and other marine animals to break down efficiently. Kamoka Pearl, however, has found an environmentally conscious way around this problem. Rather than hosing the oysters off, they move them to shallow areas of the lagoon where fish life is more abundant and varied. After a few days, the fish clean the oysters naturally. Although this isn’t as quick or cheap in means of labor costs, the company prefers to spend the extra money to do what they feel is best for the environment.

Whether or not pearl farming is beneficial or detrimental to the environment depends on the methods used to farm the mollusks and environmental factors from other industries. Research is still underway. New knowledge, methods of farming, and innovations in technology are being discovered day-to-day. The question of whether there is room for pearls in a changing world can safely be assumed as a yes, as long as we leave enough room for the ocean to continue its natural processes. We have seen since the invention of cultured pearls all the way to today that with changes in society, come changes in the pearl industry, and these changes can have varied and lasting effects. It appears that the pearl industry has set itself up to be as timeless as the gems themselves are.

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Oysters covered in oil

Deepwater Horizon Spill of 2010 the Latest Threat to Oysters?

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

Among other grisly repercussions of the great oil spill of 2010, (which came to be known as the “Deepwater Horizon Spill”), hundreds of fragile oyster beds that thrived in the area have been severely disrupted.  Why is this a problem?  Simply put, oysters are a filter animal and are a natural and necessary part of the filtering that is required for the environments of our oceans, lakes and rivers.  The talented animals can clean water like a pool vacuum cleans a pool.  Filtering organic materials is their business – but understandably, the Deepwater Horizon Spill has proved too much for many of the oysters along the Gulf.

The damages to the Gulf oyster beds have threatened not only the oysters themselves, but myriad of businesses based on the oyster trade.  The oldest oyster shucking operation in the United States, P&J Oyster Company of New Orleans was extremely impaired by the spill.  It reported that the company still has not resumed shucking its own oysters after the spill, and the overall business is still only at 35 percent of original production figures.

That same year, Governor Bobby Jindall ordered freshwater to be pumped into the Mississippi river in order to try to flush out the oil that had seeped in. Though the freshwater pumping may have helped on some levels, the over-abundance of fresh water also adversely affected the oyster beds, because a subtle mixture of brackish water, both saltwater and fresh, is needed for the fragile oysters to thrive.

Dr. Tom Soniat,  for over ten years a full-time Biology professor at Nicholls University and mussel specialist, stated that “the mortality rate [in the area] was up to 98 percent in some oyster beds.”  At a 2 percent survival rate, this kind of depletion could quickly cause oysters to join the endangered species list.  In addition, many other polluted areas which once supported thriving oyster beds are no longer producing at all.

Oily OystersEven though man-made problems can have a devastating effect on our oyster beds, man-made solutions may also help to mitigate the damages.  Through thoughtful reef management, the oyster beds can improve and begin to thrive.  One of the sustainable practices that helps to support the oyster growth is to plant “cultch.”

Cultch is nothing more than a mass of shells, pebbles and gravel.  It is spread along on the bottom of the oyster habitat and provides a floor of sorts to which an oyster may attach itself with its tiny weed-like foot.   It is a starting place for oysters to group together for protection and support and begin to form a colony.

Emily Bryce of The New York Times found that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife has an oyster cultch project in six large oyster habitats across Louisiana. She reports that “by simultaneously building hatcheries where oyster larvae are cultivated, the state  hopes to seed the new reefs with generations of oysters that will build new fortresses.”

There is a silver lining to the Deepwater Horizon Spill – the increased environmental awareness in the Gulf area and knowledge of the obstacles the region faces has skyrocketed since the Spill, and has sent hundreds of agencies to the rescue, learning as they go, how to return to and keep the waters in their original state. That is a big win for our friends, the oysters.

Check out this blog over at HuffPo about other animals that have yet to recover from the spill.

See: Source: Bryce, Emily. A Multitude of Oysters? Looks Can Be Deceiving. The New York Times. 25 October, 2012.

Oysters

Oysters: The Threatened Species

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

To continue with the green-theme, I found some thought provoking information concerning our favorite jewel-creating animal. Although this may not be completely about sustainability, it raises a lot of the same non-pollution motifs as far as sustainability is concerned.

In terms of the jewelry that requires the most effort put forth by human hands, pearls are at the top of the list. Since pearls are purely organic, the animal that makes a pearl, an oyster, must be provided for in order to produce a pearl. Recently, some species of oysters have been classified as a threatened species in the freshwater rivers of the United States.

There are several statuses offered to species that are facing rapid decline due to habitat encroachment, pollution, over-harvesting, and other factors. While the “threatened” and “endangered” statuses are very similar, a species belonging to the threatened status has a more promising population growth trend compared to an endangered species, and therefore the threatened species has a more likely chance of recovering.

The article Endangered Freshwater Mussel Species and Trade, written by the TED project, states the “primary cause for (the reduction in oyster population) is believed to be due to non-specific pollution from areas including: coastal, urban, agricultural, and industrial runoff into rivers and waterways”.  Since oysters are filter feeders that consume algae and microscopic organisms in the water, they are an important part of the aquatic habitat. Without oysters, an infestation of algae and microscopic organisms would lead to diseases within other species. Since oysters are so small and because of the way their systems operate, they are more vulnerable to toxins and ecological change than many other marine creatures.

Not only has modern pollution been a problem, but according to Alan P. Covich, in his paper titled Emerging Climate Change Impacts on Freshwater Resources: A Perspective on Transformed Watersheds, experts have pointed to the extremes in the variability of precipitation due to the temperature increase in many regions, which could cause floods and droughts. It was stated that “the main effects on freshwater resources are likely to consist of greatly increased uncertainty in maintaining sufficient local and regional supplies of high-quality water resources to meet demands for municipal, industrial, and agricultural needs while also sustaining natural ecosystem services.” It is theorized that global warming may alter regional hydrology and ecosystem capacities to supply reliable sources of high quality freshwater. The changes that have been documented are now considered long-term even though they may not be completely understood at the moment. It appears lake levels are declining across western basins, midwestern aquifers, and southeastern states.

Oysters are experiencing increasing danger due to the dire state of the environment. Without oysters, the pearl industry will cease to exist. Although we cannot prevent global climate change completely, we can all do our part by preventing pollution and conserving water for our aquatic friends. Next up in the ‘sustainability’ chapter: we all heard how terribly devasting the oil spill in the gulf was in 2010, but did you know who much harm it did for the oyster population?

Beautiful Coral Reef under Threat

Our Oceans Are Depending On Us.

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE,
BUT OUR OCEANS NEED YOUR HELP.

This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. We are polluting our oceans, killing off our sea-life and obstructing our very own eco-system. We must make changes. It won’t be long before this planet is taken over by…PLASTIC! This plastic over-pollution issue is a sign of over consumption and we need to bring it to an end, and I believe this is possible simply through awareness. If we can make everyone AWARE of the horrendous consequences of their actions, wouldn’t it only be right to change our actions to create positive consequences?  Before I continue my rant, I’d like to share a few eye-opening  statistics and it is then that I feel you will better grasp the severity of this issue.

Did you know:

  • Ocean pollution affects at least 267 species worldwide, including 86% of sea turtle species, 44% of all sea bird species, and 43% of marine mammal species.
  • 60,000 plastic bags are discarded in the US every 5 seconds
  • 1 million plastic cups are used just on airline flights in the US every 6 hours
  • 2 million plastic beverage bottles are used in the US every 5 minutes

saveourshores.org

If that isn’t enough to make want to stop using plastic products forever, what about our helpless marine life? These little guys depend on us to keep their environment clean and safe but we are doing exactly the opposite. We are turning their sanctuaries into deadly trash ridden dump sites in the middle of the ocean!

These are just a few things our sea creatures are having to battle, daily.

Ingestion: Many birds mistake pieces of plastic for tiny fish. Once the birds ingest the plastic their bodies are unable to digest it. Because the plastic does not get digestion, the bird feels full eventually resulting in malnutrition.

Suffocation: Animals will make the mistake of thinking that six-pack holder and plastic bag you left behind on the beach is their dinner. Once the plastic is ingested the plastic blocks airways resulting in suffocation or inhibiting its growth patterns. A sea turtles favorite meal is jellyfish…often plastic bags look just like this tasty treat. Lucky for the jellyfish, but poor turtles!

Entanglement: This most often is a result from fishing line and plastic material left from 6-packs. Once the animal become entangled their breathing is restricted along with their ability to eat and swim.

What about us? This over consumption of plastic affects us too!

Plastic is made of petroleum which would be oil or natural gas, but plastic also consists of harmful checmicals not found on labels. Time to expose these bad boys.

First, we have Phthalates: chemicals used to create soft and flexible plastics that are commonly used in the in food and construction industries, as well as in beauty products, pesticides, wood finishes, insect repellents, and solvents. Studies have found abnormal male sexual development, infertility, premature breast development, cancer, miscarriage, premature birth and asthma all associated with exposure to phthalates (saveourshores.org).

Second, there is  Bisphenol-A (BPA) is the chemical name for polycarbonate plastics, found in everything from 5-gallon water jugs, baby bottles, and the lining in many cans of food, including baby formula. Studies of Bisphenol-A show it is an estrogen disrupter with the ability to migrate into liquids and foods that it comes into contact with (Earth Resource, 2000). Numerous studies have found unsafe levels of BPA in children, adults, baby bottles, water bottles, teethers, baby formula, and other common household items.

Plastic more than likely isn’t going to disappear (anytime soon), but by bringing awareness to the catastrophic effects it has on our Planet I hope the next time you go grocery shopping you remember to bring your own bag and say “No Thanks” to plastic!

Even our decisions on what jewelry we wear is effecting mother earth!  One eco-friendly option we suggest… PEARLS! The pearl industry is proud to say that they are more eco-friendly than your typical mined gem. Pearl farmers are working harder than ever to constantly find new ways to make the pearl farming industry more eco- friendly. Ultimately, to keep this precious gem on the market without destroying nature. Although pearls are not mined,  that does not mean pearl farming is 100% harmless. Aquaculture can damage the environment from the use of high-powered hoses that are used to clean the oysters. Solution? Pearl farmers are using tropical fish to clean the oysters (saveourshores.org)! Resources, lets use all of our resources! Stay tuned for our next installment in the sustainability project to find out, ‘Are pearls threatened?’

 

 


DNA Fingerprinting of Pearls

Late last year, a scientific development in the pearl world was made. It is now possible to extract DNA from pearls (in a very non-damaging manner) to track which original species of oyster that produced the pearl. It only takes about 10 millimeters of material that is drilled from a pre-existing hole in the gem to be able to extract enough usable DNA.

DNA being extracted from a South Sea Pearl
A scientist uses a very small drill to remove DNA from this pre-drilled pearl.

So…why would we want to do this?

Historians are interested in this process because it can tell us more about historically significant gems. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what animal produced the gems worn by queens of the past? Also, it gives jewelers and owners of pearl jewelry a reliable way to know more about the jewelry they sell and to gain insight into the provenance of each priceless gem. It’s a pretty amazing concept, when you think about it! Scientists are already planning the next step of this process, which would be about tracking the region, and perhaps even the specific lagoon, lake, or river where your pearl was produced!

sources:
sciencedaily.com
PLoS ONE Scientific Journal

Oysters

What’s the difference between oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops?

Oysters, clams, mussels and scallops – aren’t those all the same thing?!

Close – these animals all belong to the mollusk family, and have lots of similarities. Are all members of the mollusk family, which includes any invertebrate having one, two or more shells that wholly or partially enclose their soft, unsegmented body. Other mollusks you may know are snails, squids and octopuses. Oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops are all commonly farmed or harvested for food and they all also have the ability to produce a pearl, although the types of pearls they can produce are all very different. To learn more about some amazing naturally formed pearls (from more than just oysters!) Check out our awesome Natural Pearls blog to help shed some more light on the differences between some of the mollusks mentioned in this blog.


So now that you know how they’re similar, let’s get to why you’re really here: to learn how they’re different. Lets break it down:
According to dictionary.com, an oyster is any of several edible, marine, bivalve mollusks of the family Ostreidae, having an irregularly shaped shell, occurring on the bottom of or adhering to rocks or other objects in shallow water.


A clam is any of various bivalve mollusks, especially certain edible species.


Mussels are any bivalve mollusk, especially an edible marine bivalve of the family Mytilidae and a freshwater clam of the family Unionidae.


And scallops are any of the bivalve mollusks of the genus Argopecten (Pecten) andrelated genera that swim by rapidly clapping the fluted shell valves together.

Still confused? Lets compare them side by side.
Clams and scallops can move about in their environment, while mussels and oysters are rooted into wherever they attach their shell. As mentioned in the dictionary.com definition above, scallops move by clapping their shells together. Here’s some video proof:

Clams move by opening their shell and sticking out a large foot that they use to push themselves along the surface with. As seen in the following video, the “foot” actually looks more like a huge tongue! They really are neat animals.

Mussels also have feet, although they prefer to remain attached to their substrate.

Wild oyster shells are typically rough, dull, and covered in barnacles.
Wild oyster shells are typically rough, dull, and covered in barnacles.

In appearance, all are very similar. Oysters typically have round or oval shaped shells, mussel shells are more oblong, clam shells are typically more short and squat in shape, and can be smooth or have wide waves as seen in the giant clam.

Short, round clam shells
Short, round clam shells.

Scallops have the iconic sea-shell shape.

Colorful scallop shells
Scallops come in a range of colors.

These animals exist in a wide range of sizes, but mussels typically are the smallest of the mollusks, averaging only a couple inches across.

A bed of mussels
A bed of mussels. They are typically small and come in a wide range of colors.

The average size for scallops are two to three inches, with the largest species being the deep-sea scallop at five or six inches across. Oysters and clams, on the other hand, can grow to be huge! The largest oyster discovered was around 15 inches, and giant clams can reach a whopping six feet in length. In fact, one of these massive clams actually produced a fourteen pound pearl.

This example of a giant clam has a large, ridged shell.
This example of a giant clam has a large, ridged shell.

Although all of these mollusks are similar, all have their own roots or traditions.  Clams were worshiped by the Moche people of ancient Peru and used as money by the Algonquin Indians. Scallops symbolize femininity in many cultures. The outward shell represents the protective and nurturing ability that a mother possesses. The famous painting of the Roman goddess of love and fertility, Venus, painted by Botticelli includes a scallop shell. Also, in ancient cultures a young couple desiring to bear offspring had to make a pilgrimage and often carried a scallop shell as a symbol of gaining fertile abilities. In Christianity, the a scallop shell is often seen as a symbol of a pilgrimage, thanks to the use of a scallop shell by the apostle St. James the Great, who traveled with a shell and would only ask those he met for enough to fill the shell – whether it be a small drink of water or a mouthful of food. The scallop shell now also appears in many pieces of religious Western art.

Fascinated by the world of oysters and their mollusk cousins? You may be interested in opening your own oyster at home!