(ORDO NEWS) — Plants need water just as much as animals. But how exactly they pass it through their tissues remained a mystery, which was only recently unraveled.
The main problem lies in the fact that trying to trace the process of water exchange between plant tissues will inevitably entail a violation of this delicate process – but researchers have found a way to avoid this.
University of Nottingham physicist Flavius Pascut and his team had to resort to a gentle imaging technique that allowed scientists to watch plants drink in real time.
“We have developed a way to observe this process at the level of individual cells,” explained Kevin Webb, an electrophysiologist at the University of Nottingham. “We can not just see the water inside the root, but we can accurately determine where and how it moves.”
Not only is water essential to plants in its own right, it also acts as a means of transporting other nutrients, minerals, and biomolecules throughout all living structures. How efficiently plants can move precious fluid can have a huge impact on their ability to endure harsh environmental conditions.
“In order to observe the uptake of water by living plants without damaging them, we applied a sensitive laser optical microscopy technique to non-invasively monitor the movement of water within living roots, ” Webb explained .
This method is so sensitive that it can determine the mass and orientation of molecular bonds. This means that contrast can be provided using molecules that are released from their environment – in this case, deuterium oxide, known as “heavy water”.
Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen that has a neutron, as well as the usual single proton of ordinary hydrogen, doubling its mass.
Although heavy water has slightly different properties, it is still similar enough to ordinary water that small amounts do not interfere with plant physiology.
Curiously, the researchers found water absorption only in the inner part of the roots, where the xylem passes, transporting water to the root tissues. This indicates that during the initial absorption, water is not transferred to the surrounding tissues on its way through the root.
The researchers think this means that there are actually two water distribution systems inside the plant, and that the second distributes water to the outer tissues.
Why is it so important? Understanding the subtleties of plant physiology, it is possible not only to significantly increase yields (for example, due to point control of irrigation and fertilizers), but also to develop crop varieties that are more adapted to adverse conditions, from severe frosts to long droughts.
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