Unicellular microalgae smell dissolved minerals in the water as Chemists of the University Jena demonstrate in the current issue of “Nature Communications”
Diatoms are unicellular algae that are native in many waters. They are a major component of marine phytoplankton and the food base for a large variety of marine organisms. In addition, they produce about one fifth of the oxygen in the atmosphere and are therefore a key factor for our global climate.
However, these algae, which measure only a few micrometers, have yet another amazing ability: they can “smell” stones. “To be more precise, these algae are able to locate dissolved silicate minerals,” Prof. Dr. Georg Pohnert, the chair of Instrumental Analytics at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, explains.
A recent study by Pohnert and his research team published in the current issue of “Nature Communications” demonstrates that diatoms are not only able to trace silicate minerals in the water. Moreover, they can even move actively to areas where the concentration of silicates is especially high (DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10540).
Algae need silicate for the structure of their strong mineral cell membranes, which are composed of two overlapping parts like a cardboard shoe box with a lid. During cell division, each of the two new cells receives one half of the box and regenerates the missing lid. “The algae have to search their environment for the building material,” says Pohnert, who is also a Fellow at the Jena Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.
For their study, the researchers from Jena and their colleagues from the University of Ghent, Belgium, observed and filmed Seminavis robusta diatoms under the microscope. The video shows what happens when algae are fed with a single silicate loaded granule:
The tiny single-cell organisms, which grow in a biofilm on a solid surface, perform back and forth moves to approach the silicate source in the center of the screen and virtually “gobble it up”. The algae are able to cover a distance of two micrometers per second, as shown in fast motion in the video. “It becomes obvious that diatom-dominated biofilms are actually constantly moving,” Pohnert points out.
How the algae succeed in performing a target-oriented movement remains to be elucidated yet. “We do currently not know, which receptors the algae have or which mechanisms mediate the perception,” says Karen Grace Bondoc from Pohnert’s research team. The PhD student, who is a fellow of the International Max Planck Research School “Exploration of Ecological Interactions with Molecular and Chemical Techniques”, is the first author of the publication. In her PhD project she studies complex interactions of the organisms in marine biofilms.
However, the scientists showed that the diatoms were solely attracted by the odor of the silicate. If the researchers replaced the silicate mineral with structurally similar salts containing Germanium which is toxic to the algae, the algae moved away from the mineral source.
Even though the experiments are pure basic research, the Jena chemists see the potential for practical application in the long term. “If we understand the processes that make the algae colonize one particular area or avoid other regions, we could use this information to selectively design surfaces and materials in such a way that they stay free of algae,” Pohnert emphasizes. Such materials could be used for the hulls of ships or water pipes which are often damaged by algal colonization.
Bondoc, K. G., Heuschele, J., Gillard, J., Vyverman, W., Pohnert, G. (2016). Selective silica-directed motility in diatoms. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10540
Prof. Dr. Georg Pohnert
Institute for Inorganic and Analytical Chemistry
Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Lessingstrasse 8, 07743 Jena
Phone: +49 3641 948170
http://www.uni-jena.de/unijenamedia/Bilder/presse/researchnews/Kieselalgen_Pohne... - download the video of diatoms movement (AG Pohnert/FSU)
Dr. Ute Schönfelder | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
New risk factors for anxiety disorders
24.02.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers
24.02.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport
Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...
The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.
The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...
Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...
Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".
Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...
13.02.2017 | Event News
10.02.2017 | Event News
09.02.2017 | Event News
24.02.2017 | Life Sciences
24.02.2017 | Life Sciences
24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News