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MRes Student publishes on Current Biology
- MRes student Nils Gustafsson has contributed to a microtubule publication in prestigious journal Current Biology
CoMPLEX PhD student publishes on Science
Dr. Lisa Willis
EPSRC PhD Plus 2010 Project: Theoretical and experimental studies of meso/nanoscale patterning processes in diatom biosilica micro-shells.
Over the last 200 million years, a number of aquatic single-cell organisms have evolved techniques to sequester and assemble biominerals into exogenous structures. The results seen today are high-fidelity, mineralized micro-shells that feature patterned ornamentations at tiny sub-micron scales. Among these organisms, diatoms are of particular topical importance owing to their fundamental role in the carbon cycle, in food chains ascending to fish, and to the potential value of the micro-shells' assembly mechanisms to developing nanotechnologies.
Diatom micro-shells, which are mineralized by silica in composition with a variety of biological macromolecules, have astoundingly diverse morphologies, with structures that span scales from 0.5 mm down to 5 nm. These structures assemble and solidify intra-cellularly following mitotic cell division whereupon each new daughter cell constructs and exocytoses a new micro-shell that shares the characteristic morphology of the parent's micro-shell. This all takes place within a few hours under the ambient physiological conditions of the cell. Putative functional roles of the micro-shells are optimization of mechanical strength for protection and light-harvestation for photosynthesis.
There is much to be learned about this diatom micro-shell assembly process. The variety, intricacy, and tiny scale of the mineralized patterns cannot presently be reproduced by synthetic processes. If the micro-shell assembly process has a physical basis that is synthetically imitable or that can be externally manipulated, then it is of potential value to the nanotech industry, which depends crucially on the development of high-fidelity, rapid, and inexpensive manufacturing techniques. This interdisciplinary project will attempt to identify the salient physical processes influencing diatom micro-shell patterning by the analysis of theoretical models and experiments documenting the effects of perturbing physiological conditions upon micro-shell morphology.
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