Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Living in a glass house: Ocean organism’s novel dwelling helps Earth’s atmosphere

19.09.2002


Why live in a glass house? For diatoms -- tiny ocean-dwelling organisms that live in exquisitely ornate glass cases -- the benefit turns out to be enormous.


Diatom



In a paper published in the Sept. 13 issue of Science, Princeton scientists show that diatoms probably depend on glass to survive because the material facilitates photosynthesis. However, their study suggests that this domestic arrangement has a much bigger beneficiary: the entire planet, which owes its present-day, oxygen-rich and carbon-poor atmosphere in part to diatoms and their effective use of glass.

Diatoms are one-celled organisms that are so prolific they account for a quarter of all the photosynthesis on the planet. In photosynthesis, organisms use sunlight and carbon dioxide to make sugar and oxygen.


"These guys proliferated at a time when atmospheric carbon dioxide took a big dive" 40 to 60 million years ago, said geochemist Allen Milligan, who conducted the study in collaboration with Francois Morel, director of the Princeton Environmental Institute.

The low carbon dioxide levels, while good for us today, posed a serious problem for plant life: how to perform photosynthesis when one of the raw ingredients is in short supply. Milligan and Morel found that diatoms solved the problem by encasing themselves in glass, which has chemical properties that help them concentrate carbon dioxide inside their vessels. With this device, diatoms flourished and now play an important role in keeping carbon dioxide levels low.

Diatoms have been a source of fascination since the first microscopes of the 1600s allowed scientists to sketch their intricate glass cases in pen and ink. The tough porous shells also have a variety of commercial uses. Swimming pool owners commonly use diatomaceous earth, which is rich with old diatom shells, to filter contaminants from pool water. In the 1860s, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite by using silica from diatoms to stabilize nitroglycerine into a portable stick.

"What we didn’t know was what good this glass wall is to the diatom itself," said Milligan.

According to Milligan and Morel’s study, the answer may have less to do with the structural properties that make diatoms useful to people than with the chemistry of silicon, a chief ingredient of glass. The researchers found that silica in the glass changes the acid-base chemistry of the water inside the shell, creating ideal conditions for one of the chemical reactions involved in photosynthesis.

By evolving this built-in reaction vessel, diatoms have had a tremendous impact, said Morel. "They are among the most successful organisms on earth."

The discovery is likely to be useful to scientists in a number of disciplines, said Morel, because it links two previously separate areas of research: the study of carbon and how it cycles through water, biological organisms and the atmosphere, and the study of silicon and how it cycles between water, diatoms and sediments.

Scientists who are trying to map past variations in the earth’s climate, for example, might use fossil records of diatoms and other indicators to infer how carbon dioxide concentration and diatom abundance have influenced each other at different points in the past. Having a firm grasp of such historical processes has become increasingly important as scientists try to predict the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide.

The study also offers an explanation for why diatom shells are so ornate. The many pores and filigrees create a lot of surface area, exposing much more glass to water than would be the case for a smooth structure. That extra surface area might make photosynthesis more efficient for the diatom. "These are very pretty things and their beauty might in fact be related to their function," said Morel.

Steven Schultz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.princeton.edu/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New type of photosynthesis discovered
17.06.2018 | Imperial College London

nachricht New ID pictures of conducting polymers discover a surprise ABBA fan
17.06.2018 | University of Warwick

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: AchemAsia 2019 will take place in Shanghai

Moving into its fourth decade, AchemAsia is setting out for new horizons: The International Expo and Innovation Forum for Sustainable Chemical Production will take place from 21-23 May 2019 in Shanghai, China. With an updated event profile, the eleventh edition focusses on topics that are especially relevant for the Chinese process industry, putting a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation.

Founded in 1989 as a spin-off of ACHEMA to cater to the needs of China’s then developing industry, AchemAsia has since grown into a platform where the latest...

Im Focus: First real-time test of Li-Fi utilization for the industrial Internet of Things

The BMBF-funded OWICELLS project was successfully completed with a final presentation at the BMW plant in Munich. The presentation demonstrated a Li-Fi communication with a mobile robot, while the robot carried out usual production processes (welding, moving and testing parts) in a 5x5m² production cell. The robust, optical wireless transmission is based on spatial diversity; in other words, data is sent and received simultaneously by several LEDs and several photodiodes. The system can transmit data at more than 100 Mbit/s and five milliseconds latency.

Modern production technologies in the automobile industry must become more flexible in order to fulfil individual customer requirements.

Im Focus: Sharp images with flexible fibers

An international team of scientists has discovered a new way to transfer image information through multimodal fibers with almost no distortion - even if the fiber is bent. The results of the study, to which scientist from the Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology Jena (Leibniz IPHT) contributed, were published on 6thJune in the highly-cited journal Physical Review Letters.

Endoscopes allow doctors to see into a patient’s body like through a keyhole. Typically, the images are transmitted via a bundle of several hundreds of optical...

Im Focus: Photoexcited graphene puzzle solved

A boost for graphene-based light detectors

Light detection and control lies at the heart of many modern device applications, such as smartphone cameras. Using graphene as a light-sensitive material for...

Im Focus: Water is not the same as water

Water molecules exist in two different forms with almost identical physical properties. For the first time, researchers have succeeded in separating the two forms to show that they can exhibit different chemical reactivities. These results were reported by researchers from the University of Basel and their colleagues in Hamburg in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

From a chemical perspective, water is a molecule in which a single oxygen atom is linked to two hydrogen atoms. It is less well known that water exists in two...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Munich conference on asteroid detection, tracking and defense

13.06.2018 | Event News

2nd International Baltic Earth Conference in Denmark: “The Baltic Sea region in Transition”

08.06.2018 | Event News

ISEKI_Food 2018: Conference with Holistic View of Food Production

05.06.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientists predict a new superhard material with unique properties

18.06.2018 | Materials Sciences

Squeezing light at the nanoscale

18.06.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

A sprinkle of platinum nanoparticles onto graphene makes brain probes more sensitive

15.06.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>