Recently biologists have been interested in a tide-associated periodic behavior displayed bythe diatom Hantzschia virgata, a microscopic golden-brown alga that inhabits that portion of a shoreline washed by tides (the intertidal zone). Diatoms of this species, sometimes called "commuter" diatoms, remain burrowed in the sand during high tide, and emerge on the sand surface during the daytime low tide. Just before the sand is inundated by the rising tide, the diatoms burrow again. Some scientists hypothesize that commuter diatoms know that it is low tide because they sense an environmental change, such as an alteration in temperature or a change in pressure caused by tidal movement. However, when diatoms are observed under constant conditions in a laboratory, they still display periodic behavior, continuing to burrow on schedule for several weeks. This indicates that commuter diatoms, rather than relying on environmental cues to keep time, possess an internal pacemaker or biological clock that enables them to anticipate periodic changes in the environment. A commuter diatom has an unusually accurate biological clock, a consequence of the unrelenting environmental pressures to which it is subjected; any diatoms that do not burrow before the tide arrives are washed away.

This is not to suggest that the period of this biological clock is immutably fixed. Biologists have concluded that even though a diatom does not rely on the environment to keep time, environmental factors—including changes in the tide's hydrostatic pressure, salinity, mechanical agitation, and temperature—can alter the period of its biological clock according to changes in the tidal cycle. In short, the relation between an organism's biological clock and its environment is similar to that between a wristwatch and its owner: the owner cannot make the watch run faster or slower, but can reset the hands. However, this relation is complicated in intertidal dwellers such as commuter diatoms by the fact that these organisms are exposed to the solar-day cycle as well as to the tidal cycle, and sometimes display both solar-day and tidal periods in a single behavior. Commuter diatoms, for example, emerge only during those low tides that occur during the day.

The author of the passage compares the relationship between an organism's biological clock and its environment to the relation between a wristwatch and its owner most probably in order to

point out a fundamental difference between the function of biological clocks in organisms and the use of mechanical clocks by humans

illustrate the way in which the period of an organism's biological clock can be altered by environmental factors

suggest that there are important similarities between the biological clock in organisms such as the commuter diatom and the biological clock in humans

support an argument regarding the methods used by certain organisms to counteract the influence of the environment on their biological clocks

question the accuracy of the biological clock in organisms such as the commuter diatom


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