Expert Voices

The Diversity of Diatoms

Little, but a big deal

Thalassiosira nodulolineata, diatom, air

(Image credit: Andrew Alverson)

Andrew Alverson is a biologist and expert on diatoms at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

About 20 percent of the oxygen we breathe comes from photosynthesis by marine diatoms — small single-celled algae that play an immense role in keeping the planet's ecosystem working.

Diatoms help mediate carbon and oxygen cycles, are a foundational component of marine food webs, and they process an incredible amount of silica, which comprises about one-quarter of the earth's crust.[The Air You're Breathing? A Diatom Made That]

Andrew Alverson, a biologist and diatom expert at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, is studying diatom genomes to answer such questions as how diatoms evolved, how much of their genome they share with bacteria, and how these microorganisms became so well integrated into the global ecosystem.

What follows are ten of the most engaging images of diatoms from Alverson's research.

Amphora

Amphora, diatom, air

(Image credit: Elizabeth Ruck)

Scanning electron micrograph of the marine diatom, Amphora.

Corethron

Corethron, diatom, air

(Image credit: Elizabeth Ruck)

Light micrograph showing the golden-brown plastids and siliceous spines of the marine diatom, Corethron.

Cyclotella quillensis

Cyclotella quillensis, diatom, air

(Image credit: Andrew Alverson)

Scanning electron micrograph of the freshwater diatom, Cyclotella quillensis.

Ditylum

Ditylum, diatom, air

(Image credit: Elizabeth Ruck)

Light micrograph showing the golden-brown plastid of the marine diatom, Ditylum. This is a model diatom for understanding population structure in widely distributed marine phytoplankton species.

Guinardia striata

Guinardia, diatom, air

(Image credit: Elizabeth Ruck)

Light micrograph showing a semicircular chain of sibling cells of the marine diatom, Guinardia striata.

Psammodictyon

Psammodictyon, diatom, air

(Image credit: Elizabeth Ruck)

Scanning electron micrograph of the brackish water diatom, Psammodictyon.

Skeletonema

Skeletonema, diatom, air

(Image credit: Andrew Alverson)

Scanning electron micrograph of the marine diatom, Skeletonema. DNA sequence data have shown that this genus contains many more species than were recognized based solely on their cell wall features.

Thalassiosira nodulolineata

Thalassiosira nodulolineata, diatom, air

(Image credit: Andrew Alverson)

Scanning electron micrograph of the marine diatom, Thalassiosira nodulolineata.

Stephanodiscus

Stephanodiscus, diatom, air

(Image credit: Andrew Alverson)

Scanning electron micrograph of the freshwater diatom, Stephanodiscus.

Triceratium

Triceratium, diatom, air

(Image credit: Elizabeth Ruck)

Scanning electron micrograph of the marine diatom, Triceratium.

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