Judging diatoms by their cover: variability in local elasticity of Lithodesmium undulatum undergoing cell division. Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Unique features of diatoms are their intricate cell covers (frustules) made out of hydrated, amorphous silica. The frustule defines and maintains cell shape and protects cells against grazers and pathogens, yet it must allow for cell expansion during growth and division. Other siliceous structures have also evolved in some chain-forming species as means for holding neighboring cells together. Characterization and quantification of mechanical properties of these structures are crucial for the understanding of the relationship between form and function in diatoms, but thus far only a handful of studies have addressed this issue. We conducted micro-indentation experiments, using atomic force microscopy (AFM), to examine local variations in elastic (Young's) moduli of cells and linking structures in the marine, chain-forming diatom Lithodesmium undulatum. Using a fluorescent tracer that is incorporated into new cell wall components we tested the hypothesis that new siliceous structures differ in elastic modulus from their older counterparts. Results show that the local elastic modulus is a highly dynamic property. Elastic modulus of stained regions was significantly lower than that of unstained regions, suggesting that newly formed cell wall components are generally softer than the ones inherited from the parent cells. This study provides the first evidence of differentiation in local elastic properties in the course of the cell cycle. Hardening of newly formed regions may involve incorporation of additional, possibly organic, material but further studies are needed to elucidate the processes that regulate mechanical properties of the frustule during the cell cycle.

publication date

  • January 1, 2014