I came across a confusing word when I was reading a Scientific American story, “Controversial Spewed Iron Experiment Succeeds as Carbon Sink” (by David Biello). It goes like this:

“One key to the whole experiment’s success turns out to be the specific diatoms involved, which use silicon to make their shells and tend to form long strands of cellular slime after their demise that falls quickly to the seafloor.”

I'm wondering what “cellular” means in this context. Does it mean “of (diatom) cells” or “porous”?

Could someone kindly enlighten me on this?


2 Answers 2


My understanding is that the slime in question is formed of the bodies (the cells) of the dead diatoms. Where does porous come into it? Is it mentioned in a previous sentence?

  • $\begingroup$ Diatoms are generally porous, so perhaps that's why they thought it might mean that. But I've never known 'cellular' to mean porous. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2012 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you so much for your answer, terdon. My original intepretation was that too. But since diatomite is renowed for its porosity (which was not discussed in the article), I am wondering if it could mean "porous" too? $\endgroup$
    – Shummy
    Commented Oct 13, 2012 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your comment too, Richard Smith. My Collins dictionary does include "porous" as a meaning for "cellular". $\endgroup$
    – Shummy
    Commented Oct 13, 2012 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Shummy, this is getting way off topic but I imagine your dictionary had "porous" as a possible synonym of "cellular". When talking about fabrics or clothes, cellular can mean something "knitted so as to form holes" (from NOAD). Porous could be taken a synonym of cellular in that, very specific, context but is not relevant here. $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Commented Oct 13, 2012 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you all for your answers and comments. You have helped me to get a much clearer understanding. $\endgroup$
    – Shummy
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 3:26

'Cellular' in this context simply refers to slime of (diatom) cellular origin. The word 'cellular' is not referring to porosity. It appears the author wanted to be clear that the slime is from the cell, and not of some other origin. Perhaps the distinction is necessary, because the author mentions that the cells are dead, and dead cells rarely produce metabolic products, like slime.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .