Evolutionary and ecological success of diatoms—ubiquitously distributed photosynthetic single-celled algae and dominant primary producers in the contemporary ocean—has been attributed to their silica-based cell wall called a frustule. Diatoms exhibit a dazzling variety of frustule morphologies. How they construct this ornate organic-inorganic hybrid material at mild temperatures and pressures is a fascinating question, a bridge between nanoscale and planetary scale biological and geological processes. Additionally, the biocompatibility and hierarchical mesoporous structure of naturally produced diatom silica represents a basis for applications in drug delivery, biosensing, industrial catalysis, energy storage, and bioremediation.
I am investigating the molecular and cellular mechanisms of silica-based cell wall biogenesis and morphogenesis in diatoms using a combination of reverse genetics, imaging, omics, and bioinformatics. My primary experimental model system is a centric marine diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana.
Keywords: Ocean, Phytoplankton, Diatoms, Photosynthesis, Silicon Cycle, Biosilicification, Proximity Proteomics, CRISPR, Genetically Encoded Materials, Biotechnology