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Abstract

Many pigmented heterokonts are able to synthesize elements of their cell walls (the frustules) of dense biogenic silica. These include diatom algae, which occupy a significant place in the biosphere. The siliceous frustules of diatoms have species-specific patterns of surface structures between 10 and a few hundred nanometers. The present review considers possible mechanisms of uptake of silicic acid from the aquatic environment, its transport across the plasmalemma, and intracellular transport and deposition of silica inside the specialized Silica Deposition Vesicle (SDV) where elements of the new frustule are formed. It is proposed that a complex of silicic acid with positively charged proteins silaffins and polypropylamines remains a homogeneous solution during the intracellular transport to SDV, where biogenic silica precipitates. The high density of the deposited biogenic silica may be due to removal of water from the SDV by aquaporins followed by syneresis—a process during which pore water is expelled from the network of the contracting gel. The pattern of aquaporins in the silicalemma, the membrane embracing the SDV, can determine the pattern of species-specific siliceous nanostructures. BioEssays 30:328–337, 2008. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.