Description of impactPorous silica forms the basis of many technological materials, where control over the porosity is essential for their properties. In biology we find several intriguing examples of control over silica formation, most exquisitely demonstrated by the silica exoskeletons of diatoms. Diatoms are unicellular photosynthetic algae living in the sea and fresh water, known for their nanostructured exoskeletons, the frustules. The shape of the frustule is species dependent with remarkable structural and mechanical properties. Frustule formation takes place in the highly specialized silica deposition vesicle. The mechanism of silica biomineralization is poorly understood, as is the influence of the different environmental components on the chemistry, the morphology and the mechanical properties of the frustule. We investigate these different aspects of silica biomineralization in vitro and in vivo by combining fluorescence microscopy, (cryogenic) electron microscopy techniques, NMR spectroscopy, and mechanical characterization.
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