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Pflugers Arch. 2008 Apr;456(1):127-37. Epub 2007 Dec 6.

Application of AFM in understanding biomineral formation in diatoms.

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  • 1Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California-San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0202, USA.


We review previous work and present new data on the application of atomic force microscopy (AFM) to study biomineral formation in diatoms, unicellular algae that make cell walls of silica. Previous studies examined a small subset of mostly larger diatom species, identifying a prevalence of large particulate silica on the nanoscale. We survey different structures including valves, girdle bands, and elongated spines called setae, in a variety of species, and show a diversity of nano- and meso-scale silica morphologies, even on different portions of the same structure. A general trend of highly organized mesoscale silica structure on the proximal face of cell wall components was observed, with less organized structure occurring on the distal face. The highly organized structures have features suggestive of an underlying linear template, which defines the area of initial silica polymerization. Such features have not been imaged with such clarity previously, demonstrating the advantages of AFM to image small differences in surface morphology and providing new insights and confirming evidence for models of diatom silica structure formation. In addition to its imaging capability, more developed application of AFM to map locations of organic template components on the nanoscale will greatly aid in elucidating mechanisms of diatom biosilica synthesis.

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