, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 323-331

The amino acid and sugar composition of diatom cell-walls

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The cell walls of diatoms consist of a silica frustule encased in an organic coating. Biochemical characterization of this coating should allow insight into: (1) the mechanism of silicification; (2) taxonomy and evolution of diatoms; (3) preservation of fossil frustules. The amino acid and sugar composition of cell walls from 6 diatom species have been elucidated. When compared to cellular protein, cell-wall protein is enriched in serine plus threonine and glycine, and depleted in acidic, sulfur-containing and aromatic amino acids. The sugars of the cell-wall carbohydrates are quite variable and fucose tends to replace glucose in estuarine species. Condensation of silicic acid, in epitaxial order, on a protein template enriched in serine and threonine, is suggested as the Si-depositing mechanism in diatoms. The nature of this template and the polysaccharides in the cell wall may determine the solubility of diatom frustules in various environments. There is sufficient variability in cell-wall amino acids to warrant further investigation of their taxonomic utility. The sugars appear to be related to environmental factors, but they may also serve in biosystematic studies.

Contribution No. 2928 from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This work was supported by a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Postdoctoral Fellowship to R. E. Hecky, a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to P. Kilham, and a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Fellowship to K. Mopper.
Communicated by J. Bunt, Miami