Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Out of the Ocean – How algae convert sea water into chalk shells


An international research team headed by André Scheffel from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology and by scientists from the Biomaterials department of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces analyzed the chalk production in a group of marine algae known as coccolithophores. These algae have a strong influence on our climate and their fossilized chalk products give information about past environmental conditions. The researchers found a so far unknown cellular component, which appears to be the main calcium hub in the cells and to influence the incorporation of environmental traces into the chalk. Their research is published in the journal Nature Communications

Algae are true all-rounders. In East-Asian countries they are a staple food. But this is not all they have to offer. They are fascinating and highly adaptable organisms, living almost everywhere there is water – in the ocean, in lakes, or even in puddles and in the snow. With ca. 40.000 known species, algae play an essential role in the environment and for humanity.

Emiliana huxleyi and other marine algae resides within chalk shells called coccoliths. Fossil coccoliths open a window to the climate in the past while contemporary coccoliths influences our climate.

André Scheffel, MPI-MP

The marine microalga Emiliania huxleyi is one of the key phytoplankton species and lives in a solid house assembled from chalky platelets which scientists refer to as coccoliths. After death of the algae, the chalky shell sinks to the ocean floor and becomes an abundant component of sea-floor carbonates.

Over millions of years these shells have accumulated to form thick sediment layers, with the chalk cliff of the German island of Rügen being a prominent example. Due to the incorporation of trace elements from the waters surrounding the cells into the chalk structures, which are produced inside the cells, the chemical composition of these sediments can give information about the climate and environment of the past.

Nevertheless, the mechanism of chalk production in calcareous algae (“coccolithophores”) is poorly understood so far. An international research team led by André Scheffel from the MPIMP and Damien Faivre from the MPICI in Potsdam-Golm has now analyzed the processes of chalk production in the dominant marine alga Emiliana huxleyi.

This unicellular alga produces one chalk disk after the other inside the cell and moves them outside upon completion. In this way the outer shell is produced. The production of each chalk scale takes place inside a membrane-bound compartment, called the coccolith vesicle.

Based on microscopic and spectroscopic techniques the team was able to identify an additional, to date undiscovered calcium reservoir, which feeds coccolith formation with calcium and presumably the impurities that have been detected in mature coccolith chalk. Besides calcium this compartment contains other elements, including polyphosphates, which enable accumulation of calcium without its precipitation.

“The discovery of this new component in the calcium metabolism of the alga Emiliania huxleyi gives new opportunities to understand the production of coccoliths and the integration of trace elements”, explains Sanja Sviben, first author of this study. The insights emerging from this study may bring the coccolith composition and seawater chemistry into a mechanistic framework and help in understanding why and how calcification will be affected by changing environmental conditions.

Beside the reconstruction of past environmental conditions, it will be possible to develop predictive models of the future of calcification and the corresponding impact on climate. “Our results can be used to clarify how ocean acidification can influence the chalk production and how this process can adapt to future conditions”, describes André Scheffel.

Being able to predict those future changes is important, due to the impact coccolithophores have on the global carbon cycle. They bind million tons of carbon dioxide yearly, removing the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. Each chalky coccolith that ends up on the sea-floor removes carbon from the atmosphere-ocean cycle for thousands of years.

The acidification of the oceans due to raising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations poses a threat to biological chalk formation and the consequences of this on our climate are poorly understood.

Dr. André Scheffel
Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology
Tel. 0331/567 8358

Dr. Ulrike Glaubitz
Public Relations
Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology
Tel. 0331/567 8275

Katja Schulze
Public Relations
Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces
Tel. 0331/567 9203

Original publication
Sviben, S., Gal., A., Hood., M., A., Bertinetti, L., Politi, Y., Bennet, M., Krishnamoorthy, P., Schertel, A., Wirth, R., Sorrentino, A., Pereiso, E., Faivre, D., Scheffel, A.
A vacuole-like compartment concentrates a disordered calcium phase in a key coccolithophorid alga.
Nature Communications, 14. April 2016, doi: 10.1038/ncomms11228

Weitere Informationen:

Dipl. Ing. agr. Ursula Ross-Stitt | Max-Planck-Institut für Molekulare Pflanzenphysiologie

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht When fat cells change their colour
28.10.2016 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht Aquaculture: Clear Water Thanks to Cork
28.10.2016 | Technologie Lizenz-Büro (TLB) der Baden-Württembergischen Hochschulen GmbH

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>