The Air You’re Breathing? A Diatom Made That

diatomsYou’ll consume about 2 litres (just over a half gallon) of oxygen in the time it takes you to read this post (well, the original – Deskarati). About 20 percent of that oxygen comes from photosynthesis by marine diatoms — the most important little organisms that most people have never heard of.

Diatoms are tiny — five to 10 of them could fit on the head of a pin — but these single-celled algae play an immense role in keeping the planet’s ecosystem working. They’re important mediators of carbon and oxygen cycles, an integral component of marine food webs and the principal cyclers of silica, which constitutes about one-quarter of the Earth’s crust.

Diatoms incorporate that silica into their beautifully ornamented glass cell walls, whose intricate patterns have captivated researchers for centuries. Diatom species are distinguished largely on the basis of their cell-wall features and, increasingly, differences in their DNA sequences. No one really knows how many different diatoms are out there, but conservative estimates suggest around 100,000 to 200,000 species, making them among the most species-rich lineages of eukaryotes. Eukaryotes include plants, animals, and everything else whose cells are organized into membrane-bound compartments, including a cell nucleus.

Found in environments ranging from tropical reefs to sea ice , and freshwater to very salty waters — and just about every place in between — diatoms are ecologically and physiologically diverse as well. All of this has motivated a great deal of research on identifying the factors that led to their extraordinary morphological, ecological and species-level diversity. Via The Air You’re Breathing? A Diatom Made That.

See a ‘zoom in’ animation of a bacteria on a diatom on an amphipod here – Deskarati

This entry was posted in Biology. Bookmark the permalink.