Four hundred million years of silica biomineralization in land plants

Elizabeth Trembath-Reichert, Jonathan Paul Wilson, Shawn E. McGlynn, Woodward W. Fischer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Biomineralization plays a fundamental role in the global silicon cycle. Grasses are known to mobilize significant quantities of Si in the form of silica biominerals and dominate the terrestrial realm today, but they have relatively recent origins and only rose to taxonomic and ecological prominence within the Cenozoic Era. This raises questions regarding when and how the biological silica cycle evolved. To address these questions, we examined silica abundances of extant members of early-diverging land plant clades, which show that silica biomineralization is widespread across terrestrial plant linages. Particularly high silica abundances are observed in lycophytes and early-diverging ferns. However, silica biomineralization is rare within later-evolving gymnosperms, implying a complex evolutionary history within the seed plants. Electron microscopy and X-ray spectroscopy show that the most common silica-mineralized tissues include the vascular system, epidermal cells, and stomata, which is consistent with the hypothesis that biomineralization in plants is frequently coupled to transpiration. Furthermore, sequence, phylogenetic, and structural analysis of nodulin 26-like intrinsic proteins from diverse plant genomes points to a plastic and ancient capacity for silica accumulation within terrestrial plants. The integration of these two comparative biology approaches demonstrates that silica biomineralization has been an important process for land plants over the course of their >400 My evolutionary history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5449-5454
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number17
StatePublished - Apr 28 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Aquaporin
  • Fern
  • Lycophyte
  • Phytolith
  • Silicon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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