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Regulating plant quality by controlling xylem vessel dimensions during xylogenesis (XyloDimens)


Many quality aspects of plants and plant products directly or indirectly depend on integrated import of assimilates and water during growth. Besides dry matter production and partitioning within a plant, plant-water relationships strongly influence growth, plant form and various quality aspects of plant products. Plant water relations are strongly influenced by the hydraulic properties of the vascular xylem, which are directly related to the dimensions of xylem vessels.

Crucial quality aspects, such as for instance the ability of cut flowers to recover from embolisms in the vascular system at the start of their post-harvest vase-life are directly linked to the properties of xylem vessels. Dimensions of xylem vessels may differ with genetic background and are influenced by environmental conditions during growth. Xylem dimensions are therefore important for production and quality control.

However, vascular patterns are robust once they are formed. Therefore actual control of xylem properties should take place during vessel formation (xylogenesis). Control (or manipulation) of xylem vessel dimensions by environmental factors during growth could be a way to improve quality of e.g. tomatoes or flowers. The final step in formation of tracheary elements (TEs) formation is programmed cell death (PCD, which can be regarded as a decision point determining vessel dimensions. PCD is an active process in which a cell suicide pathway is activated resulting in controlled disassembly of the cell.

Most studies on cell death during xylogenesis have been done in Zinnia elegans. Cell death in Zinnia is precisely timed. At a specific time during formation of the secondary wall, the large central vacuole ruptures releasing a blend of hydrolytic enzymes into the cytoplasm. We will investigate the mechanism of PCD during xylogenesis and we will study the effects of manipulation of the timing of cell death on the dimensions of TEs in vitro and xylem vessels in vivo.

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