A phase separation model for the nanopatterning of diatom biosilica

Manfred Sumper
Science 2002 March 29, 295 (5564): 2430-3
Diatoms are encased in an intricately patterned wall that consists of amorphous silica. Species-specific fabrication of this ornate biomineral enables taxonomists to identify thousands of diatom species. The molecular mechanisms that control this nanofabrication and generate the diversity of patterns is not well understood. A simple model is described, in which repeated phase separation events during wall biogenesis are assumed to produce self-similar silica patterns in smaller and smaller scales. On the basis of this single assumption, the apparently complex patterns found in the valves of the diatom genus Coscinodiscus can be predicted. Microscopic analysis of valves in statu nascendi from three different Coscinodiscus species supports the conclusions derived from the model.

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