Rocks in the Head are Good for Balance 10/10/2003
Next time someone says you have rocks in your head, it might be a compliment, depending on where and how big. You have rocks in your inner ears that keep you from falling over. No kidding. Fish, birds, and mammals have tiny crystals of calcite, called otoliths, that are a key ingredient in the sense of balance. This means that we all have tiny chunks of limestone in our heads.
Donna Fekete, in a review of this paper in the same issue,2 has illustrations of these little rocks in the utricle and describes how they work. She says that the discovery may lead to improved medical treatments for vertigo and more: “In humans, mutations of a related protein have been linked to congenital deafness and defects in tooth mineralization,” she notes. In other words, the proteins that guide otolith development are also essential for hearing, and are involved in producing the other gemstones in our head – tooth enamel.
1Christian Sollner et al., “Control of Crystal Size and Lattice Formation by Starmaker in Otolith Biomineralization,” Science Magazine 25 June 2003; 10.1126/science.1088443.
2Donna M. Fekete, “Rocks That Roll Zebrafish,” Science Magazine 25 June 2003; 10.1126/science.1091171.
Did you know this? Did you know that you have limestone in your ears? Did you know it is essential for you to stand and walk? This is amazing stuff. Consider that it is not just dust collected from a cave or wherever, but it is carefully manufactured by proteins and enzymes, that are in turn directed by the DNA code. The result are beautiful hexagonal crystals of calcium carbonate: little gems in your head. They reside in a fluid in your inner ear, enmeshed in a forest of hair cells that can sense every move they make. Then there are the lovely crystals in your teeth – that’s another amazing story, for another time.