Crystals are generally considered to grow by attachment of ions to inorganic surfaces or organic templates. High-resolution transmission electron microscopy of biomineralization products of iron-oxidizing bacteria revealed an alternative coarsening mechanism in which adjacent 2- to 3-nanometer particles aggregate and rotate so their structures adopt parallel orientations in three dimensions. Crystal growth is accomplished by eliminating water molecules at interfaces and forming iron-oxygen bonds. Self-assembly occurs at multiple sites, leading to a coarser, polycrystalline material. Point defects (from surface-adsorbed impurities), dislocations, and slabs of structurally distinct material are created as a consequence of this growth mechanism and can dramatically impact subsequent reactivity.