Indexed on: 24 Sep '04Published on: 24 Sep '04Published in: International review of cytology
The diatoms are the most speciose group of algae, having global ecological significance in the carbon and silicon cycles. They are almost unique among algae in being diplontic, and sexual reproduction is an obligate stage in the life cycle of most diatom species. It is unclear which are the principal factors that have fostered the evolutionary success of diatoms, but the unique life cycle (which is correlated with a curious wall structure and cell division mechanism) and size-dependent control of sexuality must have played an important part. Progress in understanding life cycle dynamics and their interrelationships with population biology and evolution will depend on how successfully sex can be initiated and manipulated experimentally, and our review provides a foundation for such work. Relevant data are scattered in time and come mostly from non-English publications, producing a false impression of diatoms as recalcitrant with respect to sexualization. Recent advances dependent on experimental cultures include the discovery of widespread heterothallism (including some complex types of behavior) in pennate diatoms, sexual diversity among clones of centric diatoms, more flexible size restitution strategies in centric diatoms than had been suspected, and use of reproductive isolation as a criterion in diatom taxonomy. We identify unsolved problems in the life history of diatoms, including aspects of sexualization, cell-cell recognition, sexual reproduction, and the development of the special expanding cell (the auxospore), which is crucial to morphogenesis in this group. Some of these problems are being addressed using modern molecular genetic tools, and progress will be facilitated when whole-genome sequences are published (e.g., for Thalassiosira pseudonana). Problems of culture maintenance and methods for manipulating the life cycle are discussed.