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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 Jun 9;95(12):7215-9.

The making of the architecture of the plant cell wall: how cells exploit geometry.

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  • 1Department of Plant Sciences, Laboratory of Plant Cytology and Morphology, Wageningen Agricultural University, Arboretumlaan 4, 6703 BD Wageningen, The Netherlands.


Cell wall deposition is a key process in the formation, growth, and differentiation of plant cells. The most important structural components of the wall are long cellulose microfibrils, which are synthesized by synthases embedded in the plasma membrane. A fundamental question is how the microfibrils become oriented during deposition at the plasma membrane. The current textbook explanation for the orientation mechanism is a guidance system mediated by cortical microtubules. However, too many contraindications are known in secondary cell walls for this to be a universal mechanism, particularly in the case of helicoidal arrangements, which occur in many situations. An additional construction mechanism involves liquid crystalline self-assembly [A. C. Neville (1993) Biology of Fibrous Composites: Development Beyond the Cell Membrane (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, U.K.)], but the required amount of bulk material that is able to equilibrate thermally is not normally present at any stage of the wall deposition process. Therefore, we have asked whether the complex ordered texture of helicoidal cell walls can be formed in the absence of direct cellular guidance mechanisms. We propose that they can be formed by a mechanism that is based on geometrical considerations. It explains the genesis of the complicated helicoidal texture and shows that the cell has intrinsic, versatile tools for creating a variety of textures. A compelling feature of the model is that local rules generate global order, a typical phenomenon of life.

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