Cell and Developmental Biology
How does water drive changes in plant morphology?
Living organisms require water to survive as it constitutes the basic medium for the chemical reactions within cells. Plants additionally rely on water for maintaining the structural stability of their tissues. While aquatic plants typically have ready access to water, land plants are more prone to desiccation, and must carefully manage the relationship between water, the air that surrounds them, and the land they sit upon.
My research focuses on the biomechanics of these plant-water relationships. Water provides turgor pressure for plant cells, allowing them to remain structurally sound as well as driving cell expansion. This hydrostatic pressure is resisted by the cellulose-based cell wall that surrounds all plant cells. When plants dry out and lose water, cell walls eventually collapse and structural integrity is lost. My work addresses how mechanical forces affect plant structure and the properties of cell walls during growth and dehydration. To do this I am developing methodology to measure forces exerted by plant cells and understand how these relate to both morphogenesis and dehydration-induced deformation.
These studies use two model bryophytes, which vary in growth habit and tolerance to dehydration: the moss Physcomitrella patens and the liverwort Marchantia polymorpha. These systems conveniently allow the study of both single cells and multicellular tissues and are amenable for imaging and genetic studies. Using multidisciplinary approaches from biology, physics and material science, this work establishes a framework to understand how plants survive on land where water supply is frequently highly variable.