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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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The Ceramic Art of Algae
4 November 1999 6:00 pm
No one knows how tiny algae called diatoms build glasslike silica laceworks within their cell walls, but researchers are closing in on the secret. In tomorrow's Science, biochemists report new clues--silica-forming proteins dubbed silaffins. The finding tantalizes scientists who envy mother nature's sophisticated handiwork.
To make any ceramic, from a dinner plate to a toughened drill bit, engineers and artisans now have to mix powders, press them into molds, and fire them in furnaces. Yet there are no furnaces in sight when a developing child grows bone or a diatom drapes itself in silica lace.
Nils Kröger and colleagues at the University of Regensburg in Germany suspected that diatoms make proteins that orchestrate the initial phase of biosilica formation. After extracting organic material from diatom samples, the researchers isolated three proteins--small, closely related silaffins--that could instigate the precipitation of silica in a test tube.
Kröger wonders whether silaffins might be forming molecular frameworks that then guide the growth of the silica. However diatoms create their silica patterns, it's a trick materials scientists would like to emulate. Diatom-like methods for making intricately shaped ceramics might yield photonic materials, whose internal arrangements of solid and space could select and confine wavelengths of light for communication or computing.