Imaging and quantifying homeostatic levels of intracellular silicon in diatoms

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Science Advances  16 Oct 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 42, eaaz7554
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz7554


Diatoms are an abundant group of microalgae, known for their ability to form an intricate cell wall made of silica. Silicon levels in seawater are in the micromolar range, making it a challenge for diatoms to supply the rapid intracellular silicification process with the needed flux of soluble silicon. Here, we use three-dimensional cryo–electron microscopy and spectroscopy to quantitatively analyze, at submicrometer spatial resolution and sensitivity in the millimolar range, intracellular silicon in diatom cells. Our results show that the internal silicon concentration inside the cell is ~150 mM in average, three orders of magnitude higher than the external environment. The cellular silicon content is not compartmentalized, but rather unevenly distributed throughout the cell. Unexpectedly, under silicon starvation, the internal silicon pool is not depleted, reminiscent of a constitutive metabolite. Our spatially resolved approach to analyze intracellular silicon opens avenues to investigate this homeostatic trait of diatoms.

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