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J Exp Bot. 2006;57(2):303-17. Epub 2005 Dec 19.

Is C4 photosynthesis less phenotypically plastic than C3 photosynthesis?

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Department of Botany, University of Toronto, 25 Willcocks Street, Toronto, ON M5S3B2 Canada.


C4 photosynthesis is a complex specialization that enhances carbon gain in hot, often arid habitats where photorespiration rates can be high. Certain features unique to C4 photosynthesis may reduce the potential for phenotypic plasticity and photosynthetic acclimation to environmental change relative to what is possible with C3 photosynthesis. During acclimation, the structural and physiological integrity of the mesophyll-bundle sheath (M-BS) complex has to be maintained if C4 photosynthesis is to function efficiently in the new environment. Disruption of the M-BS structure could interfere with metabolic co-ordination between the C3 and C4 cycles, decrease metabolite flow rate between the tissues, increase CO2 leakage from the bundle sheath, and slow enzyme activity. C4 plants have substantial acclimation potential, but in most cases lag behind the acclimation responses in C3 plants. For example, some C4 species are unable to maintain high quantum yields when grown in low-light conditions. Others fail to reduce carboxylase content in shade, leaving substantial over-capacity of Rubisco and PEP carboxylase in place. Shade-tolerant C4 grasses lack the capacity for maintaining a high state of photosynthetic induction following sunflecks, and thus may be poorly suited to exploit subsequent sunflecks compared with C3 species. In total, the evidence indicates that C4 photosynthesis is less phenotypically plastic than C3 photosynthesis, and this may contribute to the more restricted ecological and geographical distribution of C4 plants across the Earth.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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