The hepatopancreas of the adult male blue crab Callinectes sapidus in intermolt was found to contain substantial amounts of calcium, magnesium, and inorganic phosphorus, averaging about 260, 20, and 250 µg-atoms per g wet tissue, respectively, accounting for over 10% of the tissue dry weight. Electron microscopy of the intact tissue showed three qualitatively different granular structures having electron densities suggestive of high mineral content. After fractionation of the tissue using centrifugal techniques, almost 95% of the total mineral was found to reside in a heavy, nonmitochondrial particulate fraction(s). The bulk of the low-speed pellet consisted of relatively dense, roughly spherical granules 1–5 µm in diameter, which could be considerably purified by repeated suspension in water and low-speed sedimentation. In the electron microscope the isolated granules appeared basically similar to one of the three characteristic types of electron-dense granules seen in the intact tissue. Although the freshly isolated granules lost approximately 50% of their wet weight when dried at 105°C, only 10% more was lost upon dry ashing at 450°C, suggesting a fairly low content of organic material. Chemical analysis revealed calcium, magnesium, and inorganic phosphate at 5.7, 2.1, and 4.4 µg-atoms per mg dried granules, respectively, accounting for 69% of the dry weight of the fraction. By specific enzymatic assays, the freshly isolated granules were found to contain ATP, ADP, and AMP at levels of 0.13, 0.03, and 0.01 µmol/mg, or 8% of their total dry weight. The remainder of the total phosphorus contributed an additional 3%, whereas carbonate, citrate, oxalate, and protein each constituted no more than 1%.
The mineral granules of the crab hepatopancreas appear to function as storage forms of calcium and phosphate during the intermolt period. This tissue appears promising as a model for study of the cellular events associated with biological calcification, since conventional biochemical techniques can be employed. Furthermore, the major mineralized component of the tissue can be obtained in large amounts for direct study by a simple fractionation procedure.