Understanding Physics of Plant Growth

It is of fundamental importance to understand growth processes in plants and how they interact with their environment during growth. Once the principles of plant cell growth at the cellular level are better understood, they can be used as a basis for modeling the growth of tissues and organs. Furthermore, potential cell wall modifications that allow plants to grow more efficiently could have an economic impact, especially in the field of biofuel production.

Expansive cellular growth is the foundation of morphogenesis. It involves changes in the size and shape of cells. These changes require the combined action of two mechanical processes: the deformation of the existing cell wall and the secretion and deposition of new wall material. The dynamics of the growth process itself and the final cell size and shape of the cell are controlled by the changing mechanical behavior of the cell wall. 

Experiments and models

The MecanX RTD project focuses on developing an accurate physics-based growth model of plant cell morphogenesis, supported by mechanophysical data obtained from two recently developed force microscopy systems, the cellular force microscope (CFM) and the multi-frequency atomic force microscope (MF-AFM). Measuring the effects of biochemical processes on cell wall mechanophysical properties, the cellular sensing of mechanical stress, and the physiological responses to external stimuli are essential to these models. 

Four subprojects

Each of the four MecanX subprojects focuses on clearly stated biological questions that drive the dissemination and further application from both research and commercial perspectives.
Subproject 1 investigates the relationship between biochemical and mechanophysical cell wall properties of Arabidopsis pollen tubes.
Understanding these properties will help formulate, both numerically and analytically, the mathematical structure of the models to be developed in Subproject 2.
For the models to be accurate, novel methods for the acquisition of data are needed, as described in Subproject 3.
Subproject 4 leverages the models so that changes in plant growth induced by external mechanical stress can be easily explored in silico and verified experimentally.

Principal Investigator Prof. Ueli Grossniklaus, Institute of Plant Biology, University of Zurich
Involved Institutions University of Zurich, ETH Zurich, IBM, FemtoTools
Number of Research Groups 6
Project Duration Apr. 2013 – Mar. 2017
Approved Funds CHF 1.940 million

Updated June 2013


Prof. Ueli Grossniklaus
Institute of Plant Biology
University of Zurich
Zollikerstr. 107
CH - 8008 Zurich
phone +41 44 634 82 49

MecanX featured in X-Letter 32
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