U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Draft Sequence of Marine Diatom Determined at JGI
Published: October 12, 2004
Posted: October 21, 2004

Diatoms are simple single-celled algae, covered with elegant and often very beautiful casings sculpted from silica. They share biochemical features of both plants and animals and are related to the organisms that make up the well known White Cliffs of Dover in England. A team of 45 biologists, lead by oceanographer Virginia Armbrust of the University of Washington in Seattle, and including members of the DOE Joint Genome Institute, has taken a big step toward resolving the paradoxical nature of these odd microbes. They have sequenced the genome of the marine diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana. The draft genome consists of 34 million bases on 24 chromosomes and is published in the October 1, 2004, issue of Science. The genome contains about 11,500 genes in all. Analyses of these genes and the proteins they encode confirm that diatoms, in their evolutionary history, apparently acquired new genes by engulfing microbial neighbors. Somewhere along this line, perhaps the most significant acquisition was an algal cell that provided the diatom with all the machinery necessary for photosynthesis. Diatoms date back 180 million years, and remnants of their silica shells make up a porous rock called diatomite that is used in industrial filters. Today diatoms occupy vast swaths of ocean and fresh water, where they play a key role in the global carbon cycle. Diatom photosynthesis yields 19 billion tons of organic carbon, about 40% of the marine carbon produced each year; by processing these amounts of carbon dioxide into solid matter, they represent a key defense against global warming. In addition, the newly analyzed genome is beginning to shed light on how a diatom constructs its intricately patterned glass shell. So far, a dozen proteins involved in the deposition of the silicon have been found and more are expected. Such progress could be a boon to materials scientists as well as climate change scientists.

Contact: Dan Drell, SC-72, 301-903-4742
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Carbon Cycle, Nutrient Cycling
  • Research Area: Genomic Analysis and Systems Biology
  • Research Area: Microbes and Communities
  • Research Area: DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI)

Division: SC-23.2 Biological Systems Science Division, BER
      (formerly SC-72 Life Sciences Division, OBER)


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)