Coccolithophore calcification: An unexpected requirement for silicon
Coccolithophores are well known for their ability to produce intricate protective scales composed of crystalline calcium carbonate (calcite). A collaborative project led by Dr. Glen Wheeler (MBA) is studying the unexpected finding that certain species of coccolithophores require silicon in order tonerc correctly form their calcite scales. Previously it has been assumed that coccolithophores have no requirement for silicon for calcification or growth. We have found this requirement for silicon in several, though not all, coccolithophore species. Notably, the bloom forming species Emiliania huxleyi does not require silicon. Significantly, those species that do require silicon also possess diatom-like silicon transport genes that are associated with the process of silicification. We wish to understand why certain coccolithophore spepcies require silicon to calcify and to determine the evolutionary and ecological implications of this finding. This work has recently been funded by a joint NERC/NSF grant and will involve collaboration with Dr. Alison Taylor (University of North Carolina, Wilmington).