Dynamics of silicon metabolism and silicon isotopic discrimination in a marine diatom as a function of pCO2

Allen J. Milligan, Diana E. Varela, Mark A. Brzezinski, Francois M. M. Morel

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Opal accumulation rates in sediments have been used as a proxy for carbon flux, but there is poor understanding of the factors that regulate the Si quota of diatoms. Natural variation in silicon isotopes (δ30Si) in diatom frustules recovered from sediment cores are an alternative to opal mass for reconstructing diatom Si use and potential C export over geological timescales. Understanding the physiological factors that may influence the Si quota and the δ30Si isotopic signal is vital for interpreting biogenic silica as a paleoproxy. We investigated the influence of pCO 2 on the Si quota, fluxes across the cell membrane, and frustule dissolution in the marine diatom Thalassiosira weissflogii and determined the effect that pCO2 has on the isotopic fractionation of Si. We found that our Si flux estimates mass balance and, for the first time, describe the Si budget of a diatom. The Si quota rose in cells grown with low pCO 2 (100 ppm) compared with controls (370 ppm), and the increased quota was the result of greater retention of Si (i.e., lower losses of Si through efflux and dissolution). The ratio of efflux:influx decreased twofold as pCO2 decreased from 750 to 100 ppm. The efflux of silicon is shown to significantly bias measurements of silica dissolution rates determined by isotope dilution, but no effect on the Si isotopic enrichment factor (ε) was observed. The latter effect suggests that silicon isotopic discrimination in diatoms is set by the Si transport step rather than by the polymerization step. This observation supports the use of the δ30Si signal of biogenic silica as an indicator of the percentage utilization of silicic acid.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)322-329
Number of pages8
JournalLimnology and Oceanography
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science


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