Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The odor of stones

04.02.2016

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.


Prof. Dr. Georg Pohnert and his research team observed unicellular microalgae, which are able to trace silicate minerals in the water.

Photo: Jan-Peter Kasper/FSU

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.

Original Publication:
Bondoc, K. G., Heuschele, J., Gillard, J., Vyverman, W., Pohnert, G. (2016). Selective silica-directed motility in diatoms. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10540

Contact:
Prof. Dr. Georg Pohnert
Institute for Inorganic and Analytical Chemistry
Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Lessingstrasse 8, 07743 Jena
Germany
Phone: +49 3641 948170
E-Mail Georg.Pohnert[at]uni-jena.de

Weitere Informationen:

http://www.uni-jena.de/unijenamedia/Bilder/presse/researchnews/Kieselalgen_Pohne... - download the video of diatoms movement (AG Pohnert/FSU)
http://www.uni-jena.de

Dr. Ute Schönfelder | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht More genes are active in high-performance maize
19.01.2018 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

nachricht How plants see light
19.01.2018 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Let the good tubes roll

19.01.2018 | Materials Sciences

How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism

19.01.2018 | Health and Medicine

Meteoritic stardust unlocks timing of supernova dust formation

19.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>