The Plant Case Book: Diatoms

Image Credit: Wipeter (CC BY-SA)

Diatoms are microscopic, single celled plants. They also come encased in glass. I love diatoms. They are beautiful to look at, they grow in a really cool way and they’re microscopic plants. What more could you want? A good way to describe a diatom is as an old-fashioned pillbox. The box has a lid that slots over the base. Diatoms grow vegetatively (they don’t have sex, but make clones of themselves instead) for most of their life cycle. The way they do this is pretty awesome. They make a new lid for the old base and a new base for the old lid; split in half and the two new diatoms go their separate ways at a slightly different, smaller size. As a diatom population grows vegetatively, the individual diatoms get smaller. In order to restore themselves to their natural size they have to have sex. Individuals will make gametes (eggs or sperm), which will fuse and build a new large silica case.

Did I mention that they are incredibly beautiful?


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