The role of diatom nanostructures in biasing diffusion to improve uptake in a patchy nutrient environment

James Mitchell, Laurent Seuront, Mark Doubell, Losic Dusan, Nicolas Voelcker, J Seymour, Ratnesh Lal

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    48 Citations (Scopus)


    Background:Diatoms are important single-celled autotrophs that dominate most lit aquatic environments and are distinguished by surficial frustules with intricate designs of unknown function.Principal Findings:We show that some frustule designs constrain diffusion to positively alter nutrient uptake. In nutrient gradients of 4 to 160 times over <5 cm, the screened-chambered morphology of Coscincodiscus sp. biases the nutrient diffusion towards the cell by at least 3.8 times the diffusion to the seawater. In contrast, the open-chambers of Thalassiosira eccentrica produce at least a 1.3 times diffusion advantage to the membrane over Coscincodiscus sp. when nutrients are homogeneous.Significance:Diffusion constraint explains the success of particular diatom species at given times and the overall success of diatoms. The results help answer the unresolved question of how adjacent microplankton compete. Furthermore, diffusion constraint by supramembrane nanostructures to alter molecular diffusion suggests that microbes compete via supramembrane topology, a competitive mechanism not considered by the standard smooth-surface equations used for nutrient uptake nor in microbial ecology and cell physiology.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere59548
    Pages (from-to)e59548
    JournalPLoS One
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 7 May 2013


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