Algae World: Sellaphora


It is possible that Sellaphora produces antibiotics or toxins; it is possible that Sellaphora could be a valuable source of particular kinds of lipids; and it is possible that its way of producing patterned, siliceous cell walls, or the walls themselves, could be especially important for biotechnology. But none of this has been investigated in Sellaphora. So, we don't know if Sellaphora species have any potential for directly improving the quality of life for humans. They may, or they may not. Other diatoms do (try a Google search on 'diatom' and 'biotechnology' or 'nanotechnology').

What we can say is that studying Sellaphora can help us significantly as we try to understand and use diatoms in environmental science. Understanding diatoms is crucial, especially as we enter a period of unprecedented change caused by increased levels of atmospheric and oceanic CO2. Why? Because diatoms play a fundamental role in the global ecosystem through their contributions to geochemical cycling. And diatoms are useful because they provide information on the quality and characteristics of aquatic habitats, both past and present.

But in order to provide useful information, those carrying out scientific experiments or making observations must be able to say what organisms they studied, or their results become devalued or meaningless. The process of discovering, describing and naming diatoms – diatom taxonomy – is therefore an essential foundation for other research; bad taxonomy will compromise everything else.

Sellaphora is one of a few model systems that are being studied in order to help taxonomists do a better job, by providing insights into how diatoms evolve, how species can be detected, defined and described, how they can be identified more easily, and how information about them can best be disseminated.

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