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Publication - Dr Paul Curnow

    Direct evidence of the molecular basis for biological silicon transport


    Knight, M, Senior, L, Nancolas, B, Ratcliffe, S & Curnow, P, 2016, ‘Direct evidence of the molecular basis for biological silicon transport’. Nature Communications, vol 7.


    Diatoms are an important group of eukaryotic algae with a curious evolutionary innovation: they sheath themselves in a cell wall made largely of silica. The cellular machinery responsible for silicification includes a family of membrane permeases that recognize and actively transport the soluble precursor of biosilica, silicic acid. However, the molecular basis of silicic acid transport remains obscure. Here, we identify experimentally tractable diatom silicic acid transporter (SIT) homologues and study their structure and function in vitro, enabled by the development of a new fluorescence method for studying substrate transport kinetics. We show that recombinant SITs are Na+/silicic acid symporters with a 1:1 protein: substrate stoichiometry and KM for silicic acid of 20 μM. Protein mutagenesis supports the long-standing hypothesis that four conserved GXQ amino acid motifs are important in SIT function. This marks a step towards a detailed understanding of silicon transport with implications for biogeochemistry and bioinspired materials.

    Full details in the University publications repository