Protein-driven biomineralization: Comparing silica formation in grass silica cells to other biomineralization processes

Santosh Kumar*, Filipe Natalio, Rivka Elbaum

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Biomineralization is a common strategy adopted by organisms to support their body structure. Plants practice significant silicon and calcium based biomineralization in which silicon is deposited as silica in cell walls and intracellularly in various cell-types, while calcium is deposited mostly as calcium oxalate in vacuoles of specialized cells. In this review, we compare cellular processes leading to protein-dependent mineralization in plants, diatoms and sponges (phylum Porifera). The mechanisms of biomineralization in these organisms are inherently different. The composite silica structure in diatoms forms inside the cytoplasm in a membrane bound vesicle, which after maturation is exocytosed to the cell surface. In sponges, separate vesicles with the mineral precursor (silicic acid), an inorganic template, and organic molecules, fuse together and are extruded to the extracellular space. In plants, calcium oxalate mineral precipitates in vacuolar crystal chambers containing a protein matrix which is never exocytosed. Silica deposition in grass silica cells takes place outside the cell membrane when the cells secrete the mineralizing protein into the apoplasm rich with silicic acid (the mineral precursor molecules). Our review infers that the organism complexity and precursor reactivity (calcium and oxalate versus silicic acid) are main driving forces for the evolution of varied mineralization mechanisms.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number107665
JournalJournal of Structural Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Inc.


  • Calcium oxalate
  • Silica
  • Siliplant1
  • biomineralization
  • diatoms
  • plants
  • silicification
  • sponges


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