News of the WeekBiomaterials

Reverse Engineering the Ceramic Art of Algae

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Science  05 Nov 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5442, pp. 1059-1061
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5442.1059b

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No one knows how the glasslike silica laceworks within the cell walls of diatoms are formed, but on page 1129, biochemists report new clues--silica-forming proteins dubbed silaffins that, when added to solutions of silicic acid, a silicon-containing organic compound, precipitate to form networks of minuscule silica spheres. Besides helping to explain how diatoms transform dissolved silicon-containing molecules into sturdy solid particles, the finding is also a tantalizing clue for materials scientists attempting to build sophisticated materials at ambient pressures and temperatures.