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Plant Physiol. 2013 Apr;161(4):1820-9. doi: 10.1104/pp.112.212712. Epub 2013 Mar 5.

In vivo visualizations of drought-induced embolism spread in Vitis vinifera.

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Horticultural Sciences Department-Citrus Research and Education Center, University of Florida, Lake Alfred, Florida 33850, USA.


Long-distance water transport through plant xylem is vulnerable to hydraulic dysfunction during periods of increased tension on the xylem sap, often coinciding with drought. While the effects of local and systemic embolism on plant water transport and physiology are well documented, the spatial patterns of embolism formation and spread are not well understood. Using a recently developed nondestructive diagnostic imaging tool, high-resolution x-ray computed tomography, we documented the dynamics of drought-induced embolism in grapevine (Vitis vinifera) plants in vivo, producing the first three-dimensional, high-resolution, time-lapse observations of embolism spread. Embolisms formed first in the vessels surrounding the pith at stem water potentials of approximately -1.2 megapascals in drought experiments. As stem water potential decreased, embolisms spread radially toward the epidermis within sectored vessel groupings via intervessel connections and conductive xylem relays, and infrequently (16 of 629 total connections) through lateral connections into adjacent vessel sectors. Theoretical loss of conductivity calculated from the high-resolution x-ray computed tomography images showed good agreement with previously published nuclear magnetic resonance imaging and hydraulic conductivity experiments also using grapevine. Overall, these data support a growing body of evidence that xylem organization is critically important to the isolation of drought-induced embolism spread and confirm that air seeding through the pit membranes is the principle mechanism of embolism spread.

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