Biologist Receives $453,000 from NSF for Diatom Silica Production Research
February 22, 2012
Jeffrey Krause, an assistant research biologist with the Marine Science Institute at UC Santa Barbara, has received a $453,487 award from the National Science Foundation for his research on "Group-Specific Diatom Silica Production in a Coastal Upwelling System."
Diatoms are microscopic single-cell phytoplankton persisting in aquatic environments, and, according to Krause, their contribution to global photosynthesis rivals –– and may exceed –– that of terrestrial rainforests. Diatoms are the only significant phytoplankton group requiring high amounts of silicon, which they use to produce a shell of silica –– i.e., glass. This requirement, coupled with their importance in the global photosynthesis, means the production of diatom silica in the ocean plays a fundamental role in the biological processes regulating the exchange of carbon dioxide between the ocean and atmosphere.
Diatoms actively acquire silicon from the seawater in which they live, and must produce a new shell for cell division. For decades, scientists have measured the rate at which diatoms produce their silica shells in the environment, but the primary methodology yields a rate for the entire diatom assemblage, and reveals no information about which diatom species grow the fastest or have the highest contribution to the assemblage rate.
"The award will allow us to refine methodology, which will be used in the field to enable the first quantitative measurements of the contribution of individual diatom species to assemblage silica production," said Krause. "It will open up analysis of diversity within a field of assemblage that current methods cannot examine, and also allow for growth rates of individual diatom species or groups to be estimated in the field."