Topic: Algae

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Diatoms make 20% of Earth's oxygen and can double in population every 24 hours

Geology Marine life Algae

Diatoms (diá-tom-os 'cut in half', from diá, 'through' or 'apart'; and the root of tém-n-ō, 'I cut'.) are a major group of algae, specifically microalgae, found in the oceans, waterways and soils of the world. Living diatoms make up a significant portion of the Earth's biomass: they generate about 20 to 50 percent of the oxygen produced on the planet each year, take in over 6.7 billion metric tons of silicon each year from the waters in which they live, and contribute nearly half of the organic material found in the oceans. The shells of dead diatoms can reach as much as a half-mile (800m) deep on the ocean floor, and the entire Amazon basin is fertilized annually by 27 million tons of diatom shell dust transported by transatlantic winds from the African Sahara, much of it from the Bodélé Depression, which was once made up a system of fresh-water lakes.

Diatoms are unicellular: they occur either as solitary cells or in colonies, which can take the shape of ribbons, fans, zigzags, or stars. Individual cells range in size from 2 to 200 micrometers. In the presence of adequate nutrients and sunlight, an assemblage of living diatoms doubles approximately every 24 hours by asexual multiple fission; the maximum life span of individual cells is about six days. Diatoms have two distinct shapes: a few (centric diatoms) are radially symmetric, while most (pennate diatoms) are broadly bilaterally symmetric. A unique feature of diatom anatomy is that they are surrounded by a cell wall made of silica (hydrated silicon dioxide), called a frustule. These frustules have structural coloration due to their photonic nanostructure, prompting them to be described as "jewels of the sea" and "living opals". Movement in diatoms primarily occurs passively as a result of both water currents and wind-induced water turbulence; however, male gametes of centric diatoms have flagella, permitting active movement for seeking female gametes. Similar to plants, diatoms convert light energy to chemical energy by photosynthesis, although this shared autotrophy evolved independently in both lineages. Unusually for autotrophic organisms, diatoms possess a urea cycle, a feature that they share with animals, although this cycle is used to different metabolic ends in diatoms. The family Rhopalodiaceae also possess a cyanobacterial endosymbiont called a spheroid body. This endosymbiont has lost its photosynthetic properties, but has kept its ability to perform nitrogen fixation, allowing the diatom to fix atmospheric nitrogen.

The study of diatoms is a branch of phycology. Diatoms are classified as eukaryotes, organisms with a membrane-bound cell nucleus, that separates them from the prokaryotes archaea and bacteria. Diatoms are a type of plankton called phytoplankton, the most common of the plankton types. Diatoms also grow attached to benthic substrates, floating debris, and on macrophytes. They comprise an integral component of the periphyton community. Another classification divides plankton into eight types based on size: in this scheme, diatoms are classed as microalgae. Several systems for classifying the individual diatom species exist. Fossil evidence suggests that diatoms originated during or before the early Jurassic period, which was about 150 to 200 million years ago.

Diatoms are used to monitor past and present environmental conditions, and are commonly used in studies of water quality. Diatomaceous earth (diatomite) is a collection of diatom shells found in the earth's crust. They are soft, silica-containing sedimentary rocks which are easily crumbled into a fine powder and typically have a particle size of 10 to 200 μm. Diatomaceous earth is used for a variety of purposes including for water filtration, as a mild abrasive, in cat litter, and as a dynamite stabilizer.

Valonia ventricosa


Valonia ventricosa, also known as bubble algae or sailor's eyeballs is a species of alga found in oceans throughout the world in tropical and subtropical regions. It is one of the largest – if not the largest – unicellular organisms.

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