Quirks & Quarks

Algae make themselves sink to find nutrients

Diatoms can move from the surface of the ocean to the depths in milliseconds
Microscopic diatoms, a type of algae. (Dr. Brad Gimmell)

Diatoms are a major group of algae and one of the most common forms of phytoplankton. It is estimated that these microscopic organisms contribute to 40 percent of all ocean productivity.  

Because they compete with other forms of surface-dwelling algae for vital nutrients in the water, they have evolved a unique strategy in order to survive.  A new study by Dr. Brad Gemmell, a Canadian professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of South Florida, has found that diatoms can rapidly adjust their buoyancy in order to sink to depths where nutrients are plentiful.  This strategy enables diatoms to dominate the oceans of the world.     

Related Links:

  • Paper in the Royal Society B