Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Marine Botany

How Diatoms Reproduce

Diatoms can reproduce in two different modes, sexual and asexual. They also may, but not necessarily, pass through a seed-like phase known as the resting spore.

Asexual Reproduction

Diatoms have a unique "shrinking division" mode of asexual reproduction. After cell division, the two valves of the test separate. Each forms the epivalve of a daughter cell, and new hypovalves are secreted within each of the parent valves. The result is one cell that is the same size as the parent cell, and one cell that is slightly smaller. Due to the rigidity of the test material, growth of the cell is impossible once the test is secreted. Thus, the average diatom size gets progressively smaller with each round of replication.

Sexual reproduction

Very small diatoms may switch to a sexual mode of reproduction. The sexual reproduction mode allows for growth of the zygote to relatively large size. It is the escape hatch for diatoms from the ever-shrinking asexual mode.

  1. Meiotic cell division

    occurs in a parent cell. This is the formation of eggs or monoflagellated sperm.

  2. Fertilization

    free-swimming sperm released from male cells find eggs, still within the test of the female cell. A zygote, or auxospore, is formed.

  3. Auxospore

    the growth phase. Auxospore splits the two valves of the parent test, continues to grow.

  4. Test Secretion

    occurs when the growth phase is complete. Cell reenters asexual mode.

  5. Asexual Reproduction

    continues for perhaps a year before the next meiosis.

Resting spores

In times of low nutrients, poor sunlight, or other stresses, diatoms may form metabolically inactive spores called resting spores. These spores have lots of stored energy in the form of photosynthetic products and tough thickened cell walls. They sink to the bottom of the sea to rest. If they can return to favorable conditions, the cells may return to normal cell functioning.

Diatom Main Menu

Photo Gallery
Anatomy and Morphology

copyright John Becker 1996.

Last updated: Feb. 05, 2009