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Mar 23, 2012
Diatom biosensor could lead to new methods for environmental remediation and faster chemical reactions
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A glow coming from the glassy shell of microscopic marine algae called diatoms could someday help us detect chemicals and other substances in water samples. And the fact that this diatom can glow in response to an external substance could also help researchers develop a variety of new, diatom-inspired nanomaterials that could solve problems in sensing, catalysis and environmental remediation. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Fellow and corresponding author Guri Roesijadi found inspiration for this biosensor in previous work  by other researchers, who showed it's possible to insert proteins in diatom shells through genetic engineering. Fluorescence is the key characteristic of a new biosensor developed by researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The biosensor, described in a paper published this week in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, includes fluorescent proteins embedded in a diatom shell that alter their glow when they are exposed to a particular substance. But materials scientists are fascinated by diatoms for another reason: the intricate, highly-ordered patterns that make up their microscopic shells, which are mostly made of silica. Researchers are looking at these minuscule glass cages to solve problems in a number of areas, including sensing, catalysis and environmental remediation.

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