Article: Coccolith biomineralisation studied with atomic force microscopy
Biomineralisation can only be understood as an interplay between organic and mineral phases. With this objective, we conducted an investigation of coccoliths using atomic force microscopy (AFM), an ultra-high resolution technique that requires no surface coating and can be used in air or under solution at ambient conditions of temperature and pressure. The detailed morphology, crystal structure, organic scales and organic coating of the coccolith species Coccolithus pelagicus, Helicosphaera carteri and Oolithotus fragilis were investigated. The fine structure of coccoliths is very complex, with the calcite either being smooth, dominated by steps or tuberculate; organic cover can be either granular or fibrous. Behaviour of coccolith surfaces during dissolution is influenced both by mineral and organic material and different surface types show variable resistance to dissolution. The organic coating protects element faces against etching. Through atomic resolution AFM, it is possible to establish the crystallographic structure of the distal shields of C. pelagicus and O. fragilis. Though elements of both species are dominated by stable crystal faces, there are important differences between them, with the external edge of elements being parallel to a cleavage direction in C. pelagicus but parallel to the atomic rows in O. fragilis. Thus, there is evidence that the biomineralisation of each species, and also of select areas of coccoliths of the same species, is markedly different.