Engineering diatoms

Biomimicry is a rapidly growing area within materials science. After all, why design from scratch structures that nature has perfected through millions of years of evolution? But, understanding exactly how living organisms carry out their often microscopic construction projects is key to emulating their skill set. Now, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have found a way to understand how microscopic algae, diatoms, build their complex and patterned cell walls. "Diatoms are nature's most gifted nanotechnologists," says team leader Nils Kröger, "We want to learn how diatom cell walls are produced because human technology can't make something that intricate by self-assembly processes and under ambient conditions." The team has developed a technique to genetically engineer diatoms that allows them to insert mutated or foreign genes and so push the mutant diatoms to create novel silica structures.