Biomineralization in Diatoms: The Organic Templates

  • H. EhrlichEmail author
  • A. Witkowski
Part of the Biologically-Inspired Systems book series (BISY, volume 6)


While the geometries of diatom frustules have been investigated in detail, the processes leading to their formation—morphogenesis and biomineralization—are not well understood. The study of organic templates, which are suspected to be important for biosilicification of diatoms, have been mainly investigated on the basis of diverse demineralization techniques. In contrast to naturally occurring dissolution of diatom cell walls in natural habitats, all experiments in vitro were based on chemical reagents including HF- or alkali-based techniques with addition of some additives as presented in this chapter. Mostly, the amino acids (serine, threonine, hydrohyproline) diverse proteinaceous materials (frustulins, pleuralins, silaffins, silacidins, circulins) as well as polyamines have been proposed to regulate biosilicification in vivo in diatoms. In this chapter, we review the biochemical pathways and potential functions of these chemical compounds and their roles in the biomineralization process. In addition, we demonstrate the presence of chitin and discuss its potential as scaffolding as well as a template material in siliceous cell walls of diatoms. The current findings show that a complex network of different organic components is responsible for the biomineralization of diatoms. Since both the organic network and the precipitated silica are integrated in the material which forms the diatom frustule, the material properties must differ from that of pure silica. As the material properties are a crucial factor for the defensive performance of the frustule and thus their survival, it is likely that organic templates for silicification play a role both for the development process and for the improvement of the material properties of the finished shells.


Silica Biomineralisation Organic templates Morphogenesis Biochemical pathways Amino acids Proteins Polyamines Chitin Demineralization techniques 



H.E. is very grateful to the German Research Foundation (DFG, Project EH 394/1) for financial support as well as to Vasily V. Bazhenov and Alexey Rusakov for their technical assistance. We cordially thank Alex Kraberg and Karen Wiltshire for specimens of T. rotula and Diana Krawczyk for images of T. rotula. Kevin McCartney is acknowledged for the revision of the English language of the manuscript.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.TU Bergakademie FreibergFreibergGermany
  2. 2.University of SzczecinSzczecinPoland

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