A comprehensive study of sterols in marine diatoms (Bacillariophyta): Implications for their use as tracers for diatom productivity

Sebastiaan W. Rampen, Ben A. Abbas, Stefan Schouten, Jaap S.Sinninghe Damsté

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

161 Citations (Scopus)


Diatoms are one of the most important organisms contributing to aquatic primary productivity and their sterols are frequently used as markers for their presence and abundance. In this study, the sterol composition of >100 diatom cultures was analyzed and its distribution was compared to the diatom phylogeny to identify typical diatom biomarkers. Forty-four sterols were detected, 11 of them being commonly present as major sterols (contributing >10% to the total sterols). 24-Methylcholesta-5,24(28)-dien-3β-ol is the most common sterol in diatoms, being present in 67% of all cultures analyzed, followed by the △5 sterols, cholest-5-en-3β-ol (cholesterol), 24-methylcholest-5-en-3β-ol, and 24-ethylcholest-5-en-3β-ol. 24-Methylcholesta-5,22E-dien-3β-ol, previously suggested to be specific for diatoms, was only the fifth most common sterol; this sterol was absent in some of the major diatom groups, and high relative concentrations seem to be restricted to pennate diatoms. No sterols are restricted to specific phylogenetic groups of diatoms. Cluster analyses, however, do reveal distinct sterol distributions: Thalassiosirales typically contain high relative abundances of 24-methylcholesta-5,24(28)-dien-3βol, high relative abundances of cholesta-5,22E-dien-3β-ol are typical for Cymatosirales, high relative abundances of 24-ethylcholesta-5,22E-dien-3β-ol are characteristic for related Amphora, Amphiprora, and Entomoneis species, and a combination of high relative abundances of 24-methylcholest-5-en-3β-ol, 24-methylcholesta-5,24(28)-dien-3β-ol, and 24-ethylcholest-5-en-3β-ol is typical for Attheya species. High contributions of 24-methylcholesta-5,22E- dien-3β-ol (>50% of all sterols) seem to be restricted to pennate diatoms. None of the major sterols found in diatoms can be used as an unambiguous diatom biomarker because all of them have been reported as common sterols in other algal groups.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-105
JournalLimnology and Oceanography
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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