When a young plant emerges from the depths of the soil, it faces a challenge: the push of gravity downward. To be successful, the plant must feel the force and then push upwards with even greater force. Visible growth is proof that the plant has won against the force of gravity.
What we can’t see is how plants feel force, at least not yet. But a discovery by plant biologists at Washington University in St. Louis will study how mechanical forces, such as gravity, affect the way plant cells form and grow.
Ryan calcutt and Ram dixit in Arts and Sciences collaborated with materials scientists at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Alabama State University on the program Engineering center in mechanobiology to create the first artificial scaffolds capable of supporting the growth of individual plant cells. Their new study is published on October 20 in Scientists progress.
Calcutt, a graduate student from the University of Washington Plant and Microbial Biosciences Program and first author of the study, examined more than 20 scaffolds, each made of a different material with a different set of physical and chemical properties.
The scaffolds were fabricated by the materials scientists involved in the collaboration, including Richard Vincent, a graduate student from the New Jersey Institute of Technology working in the lab of Treena Arinzeh, distinguished professor of biomedical engineering, and Derrick Dean, professor of biomedical engineering. at Alabama State University.
âWe found a range of efficacy, which was useful in probing which properties were important for the adhesion of plant cells to the scaffold,â Calcutt said. âWe were able to compare the properties of scaffolds that were not working very well with those that were working. “
A pattern has emerged. Negatively charged hydrophobic materials that generate an electrical charge in response to mechanical stress have created the most efficient scaffolds. These same properties are found in the cell wall of the plant.
One material in particular stood out. Scaffolds made of polyvinylidene fluoride and trifluoroethylene copolymers mimicked the properties and structure of the plant cell wall.
Calcutt discovered that pectin – a complex negatively charged polysaccharide that forms gels – is primarily responsible for the adhesion of plant cells to scaffolds.
âIt was exciting for us because it reveals that the way plant cells adhere to scaffolds is similar to the way they adhere to each other in plant tissue. Therefore, these scaffolds should be suitable for building functional plant tissue in the future, âCalcutt said.
“Because pectin is found in the cell walls of all land plants, these scaffolds hold promise as a widely applicable tool,” said Dixit, professor of biology at the University of Washington.
The new tool will allow scientists to grow and observe cells for an extended period of time in a physiologically relevant setting. It shows promise for future studies on how plant cells distinguish between different forces or developmental signals required for a plant cell to develop into a plant.
âThis work would not have been possible without our engineering collaborators,â Dixit said. âThis is a great example of how the confluence of several fields can lead to the creation of new technological platforms in biology. “