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Diatoms under the Microscope

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Diatoms are tiny pill boxes of the sea. They are simple marine algae encased in ornate silica shells. The organisms are found in an array of shapes and sizes and live throughout the world’s oceans and lakes.

They’re mostly food for fish, but they’re also important in their own right. The sheer number of diatoms in the oceans means that their role in “cycling” carbon on Earth may be comparable to that of all the rain forests combined. To learn more about these organisms, scientists recently determined the genome sequence of the saltwater diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana.

Living Antarctic diatom, x200

Fossil Arctic diatom, x3000

Living tropical diatom, x6000

Dee Breger of Drexel University in Philadelphia used a scanning electron microscope to take photographs of these diatoms. The images were projected onto a computer screen and later colorized in Photoshop.

Breger has published two books of her images and she was recently honored in the 2004 Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge sponsored by Science magazine and the National Science Foundation.

Images copyright Dee Breger, Drexel University.

— Kate Ruder


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