Control of crystal growth during coccolith formation by the coccolithophore Gephyrocapsa oceanica

Alexander Triccas, Fraser Laidlaw, Martin R. Singleton, Fabio Nudelman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Coccolithophores are marine phytoplankton that produce calcite mineral scales called coccoliths. Many stages in the synthesis of these structures are still unresolved, making it difficult to accurately quantify the energetic costs involved in calcification, required to determine the response coccolith mineralization will have to rising ocean acidification and temperature created by an increase in global CO2 concentrations. To clarify this, an improved understanding of how coccolithophores control the fundamental processes of crystallization, including nucleation, growth, and morphology, is needed. Here, we study how crystal growth and morphology is controlled in the coccolithophore Gephyrocapsa oceanica by imaging coccoliths at various stages of maturity using cryo-transmission electron microscopy (cryoTEM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and focused ion beam SEM (FIB-SEM). We reveal that coccolith units tightly interlock with each other due to the non-vertical alignment of the two-layered tube element, causing these mineral units to extend over the adjacent crystals. In specific directions, the growth of the coccolith tube seems to be impacted by the physical constraint created by the close association of neighbouring units around the ring, influencing the overall morphology and organization of the crystals that develop. Our findings contribute to the overall understanding of how biological systems can manipulate crystallization to produce functional mineralized tissues.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108066
JournalJournal of Structural Biology
Issue number1
Early online date11 Feb 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Feb 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Calcite
  • Coccolithophores, biomineralization, cryo-transmission electron microscopy
  • Crystal growth
  • Focused-ion beam scanning electron microscopy


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