Making silicon naturally: Chemists glimpse organic substance in plankton

9:54am, January 23, 2002

For the first time, signs of a compound composed of both carbon and silicon have been found within a living organism. Besides its biological novelty, the find could open new routes for making silicon-based materials, according to researchers who report discovering the substance in diatoms, a type of plankton.

The diatoms' ability to pull silicon-containing chemicals from water and use them to build microscopic shells of pure silica has long tantalized researchers.

Some scientists have suspected that to pull off this feat of ceramic engineering, diatoms must make a carbon-silicon compound during the process.

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