Atom-by-Atom Growth Chart For Shells Helps Decode Past Climate

By Becky Oskin

For the first time scientists can see how the shells of tiny marine organisms grow atom-by-atom, a new study reports. The advance provides new insights into the mechanisms of biomineralization and will improve our understanding of environmental change in Earth’s past.

Foraminifera

Foraminifera are marine plankton with complex shells. The shells of dead forams in ocean sediments form a record of climate hundreds of millions of years into the past.

Led by researchers from the University of California, Davis and the University of Washington, with key support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the team examined an organic-mineral interface where the first calcium carbonate crystals start to appear in the shells of foraminifera, a type of plankton.