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A Proton Buffering Role for Silica in Diatoms

Science  13 Sep 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5588, pp. 1848-1850
DOI: 10.1126/science.1074958

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Abstract

For 40 million years, diatoms have dominated the reverse weathering of silica on Earth. These photosynthetic protists take up dissolved silicic acid from the water and precipitate opaline silica to form their cell wall. We show that the biosilica of diatoms is an effective pH buffer, enabling the enzymatic conversion of bicarbonate to CO2, an important step in inorganic carbon acquisition by these organisms. Because diatoms are responsible for one-quarter of global primary production and for a large fraction of the carbon exported to the deep sea, the global cycles of Si and C may be linked mechanistically.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: morel{at}princeton.edu

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