Diatoms

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Although temporarily working from home, MKEI scientists are luckily still able to assess information they previously gathered in our lab. This picture comes from a FlowCam, a relatively new technology MKEI uses for dune lake phytoplankton study. A FlowCam combines a microscope and flow cytometer (a cell counter) to automatically photograph, measure, and count thousands of phytoplankton particles from a small water sample. Pictured here are diatoms, microalgae that are very common in aquatic ecosystems. They are unique among microalgae because they make silica shells. These shells come in a wide variety of interesting shapes. Diatoms are considered phytoplankton and are estimated to produce 20% of the oxygen on earth. Additionally, the shells of dead diatoms make up a significant portion of ocean bottom sediments. This soil can be purchased in garden centers as “diatomaceous earth”. Diatoms have a wide array of uses in human society from agriculture (diatomaceous earth) to industrial applications (manufacturing and polishing) and even crime scene forensic analysis. MKEI studies diatoms, and other phytoplankton, to learn more about coastal dune lake ecosystems. Some of our pictures are diatoms that are preserved and taken from a sample from one of our coastal dune lakes. Pictured here is a photo that shows live diatoms grown in the lab last summer as part of an experiment.

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