Glass Houses and Nanotechnology

  • Christina De La RochaEmail author
  • Daniel J. Conley


Wouldn’t it be cool to live in a world that was full of microscopic houses made of glass? Not just plain glass houses either, but ones with nanoscale details, the minuscule evocations of windows and doors, flagpoles, antennas, and weathervanes. What about living in a world that also boasted bazillions of organisms roaming around with glass skeletons or glass plates of armor and contained land plants woven through with glass shards. But you already know the punchline. There are no what ifs about this. Our world is full of microscopic glass structures wrought in purposeful and epic detail. Thank silica biomineralization. Creatures lurking on almost every major branch of the eukaryotic family tree (sketched in Fig. 5.1) have been producing biominerals of that amorphous, hydrated silica known as opal for as long as there have been such things on Earth as animals, if not for a few hundred million years longer. Today, to name but a bunch, diatoms, sponges, radiolarians, choanoflagellates, chrysophytes, euglyphids, ebridians, heliozoans, thaumatomonads, horsetails, grasses (including rice, wheat, and bamboo), reeds, rushes, sedges, palm trees, forget-me-nots, maize, squashes, bananas, sausage trees, arrowroot, and orchids biomineralize silica and the oceans, rivers, lakes, and their sediments; soils; dust; and many of the fruits, vegetables, and grains we eat abound with this biomineralized opal.


Silicic Acid Biogenic Silica Diatom Frustule Siliceous Sponge Cambrian Explosion 
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Further Reading

  1. Curnow P, Senior L, Knight MJ, Thamatrakoln K, Hildebrand M, Booth PJ (2012) Expression, purification, and reconstitution of a diatom silicon transporter. Biochem 51:3776–3785Google Scholar
  2. Knoll AH (2003) Biomineralization and evolutionary history. Rev Mineral Geochem 54:329–356Google Scholar
  3. Leadbeater BSC, Yu Q-B, Kent J, Stekel DJ (2009) Three-dimensional images of choanoflagellate loricae. Proc R Soc B 276:3–11Google Scholar
  4. Losic D, Rosengarten G, Mitchell JG, Voelcker NH (2006) Pore architecture of diatom frustules: potential nanostructured membranes for molecular and particle separations. J Nanosci Nanotech 6:1–8Google Scholar
  5. Porter SM (2006) The Proterozoic fossil record of heterotrophic eukaryotes. In: Xiao S, Kaufman AJ (eds) Neoproterozoic Geobiology and Paleobiology. Topics in Geobiology, vol 27, Springer, Netherlands, pp 1–21Google Scholar
  6. Wu S-H, Mou C-Y, Lin H-P (2013) Synthesis of mesoporous silica particles. Chem Soc Rev 42:3862–3875Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeologyLund UniversityLundSweden

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