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New Phytol. 2006;170(2):213-26.

How plants cope with complete submergence.

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Plant Ecophysiology, Institute of Environmental Biology, Utrecht University, Sorbonnelaan 16, 3584 CA, Utrecht, the Netherlands.


Flooding is a widespread phenomenon that drastically reduces the growth and survival of terrestrial plants. The dramatic decrease of gas diffusion in water compared with in air is a major problem for terrestrial plants and limits the entry of CO(2) for photosynthesis and of O(2) for respiration. Responses to avoid the adverse effects of submergence are the central theme in this review. These include underwater photosynthesis, aerenchyma formation and enhanced shoot elongation. Aerenchyma facilitates gas diffusion inside plants so that shoot-derived O(2) can diffuse to O(2)-deprived plant parts, such as the roots. The underwater gas-exchange capacity of leaves can be greatly enhanced by a thinner cuticle, reorientation of the chloroplasts towards the epidermis and increased specific leaf area (i.e. thinner leaves). At the same time, plants can outgrow the water through increased shoot elongation, which in some species is preceded by an adjustment of leaf angle to a more vertical position. The molecular regulatory networks involved in these responses, including the putative signals to sense submergence, are discussed and suggestions made on how to unravel the mechanistic basis of the induced expression of various adaptations that alleviate O(2) shortage underwater.

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