Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What are the Diatoms?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Diatoms

Mains level : Not Much

The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad has relied on a forensic test known as diatom tests for leads in an alleged murder case of a person inviting high stage political drama.

What are Diatoms?

  • Diatoms are photosynthesizing algae that are found in almost every aquatic environment including fresh and marine waters, soils, in fact, almost anywhere moist.
  • Diatoms have cell walls made of silica, each species has a distinct pattern of tiny holes in the cell wall (frustule) through which they absorb nutrients and get rid of waste.
  • A diatom is a photosynthetic, single-celled organism which means they manufacture their own food in the same way plants do.

Diatoms are important as they:

  • provide the basis of the food chain for both marine and freshwater micro-organisms and animal larvae
  • are a major source of atmospheric oxygen responsible for 20-30% of all carbon fixation on the planet
  • can act as environmental indicators of climate change
  • form the basis of some household goods such as pest/mite prevention and mild abrasive

Never underestimate UPSC. Try this PYQ before you reach any conclusion.

Q.Which one of the following is the correct sequence of a food chain?

(a) Diatoms-Crustaceans-Herrings

(b) Crustaceans-Diatoms-Herrings

(c) Diatoms-Herrings-Crustaceans

(d) Crustaceans-Herrings-Diatoms

What is a diatom test?

  • Diagnosis of death by drowning is deemed as a difficult task in forensic pathology.
  • A number of tests have been developed to confirm the cause of such deaths with the diatom test emerging as one of the most important tests.
  • The test entails findings if there are diatoms in the body being tested.

The science behind

  • A body recovered from a water body does not necessarily imply that the death was due to drowning.
  • If the person is alive when he enters the water, the diatoms will enter the lungs when the person inhales water while drowning.
  • These diatoms then get carried to various parts of the body, including the brain, kidneys, lungs and bone marrow by blood circulation.
  • If a person is dead when is thrown in the water, then there is no circulation and there is no transport of diatom cells to various organs.
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