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Biological apatite-crystal formation is a complex process starting with heterogeneous nucleation of inorganic calcium phosphate on an organic extracellular matrix [Cuisinier et al. (1995), J. Cryst. Growth, 156, 443–453]. Further stages of crystal growth are also controlled by the organic matrix and both nucleation and growth processes are under cellular control [Mann (1993), Nature (London), 367, 499–505]. The final mineral in calcified tissue is constituted by poorly crystalline hydroxyapatite (HA) with a low Ca:P ratio, containing foreign ions such as carbonate and fluoride. This study reports the first observation of octacalcium phosphate (OCP) [Brown (1962), Nature (London), 196, 1048–1055] in a biological tissue; OCP was found in the central part and HA at the extremities of the same crystal of calcifying dentine. This observation is of key importance in understanding the first nucleation steps of biological mineralization. The presence of OCP in a forming human dentine crystal and the observation in the same tissue of nanometer-sized particles with a HA structure [Houlléet al. (1997), J. Dent Res.76, 895–904] clearly proves that two mechanisms, direct nucleation of non-stoichiometric HA crystals and nucleation of OCP, occur simultaneously in same area of mineralization. OCP is found to be a transient phase during the growth of biological crystals. In small crystals, OCP is completely transformed into HA by a hydrolysis reaction (Brown, 1962) and can only be detected in larger crystals because of its slow kinetics of transformation.