Proof of C4 photosynthesis without Kranz anatomy in Bienertia cycloptera (Chenopodiaceae)

Plant J. 2002 Sep;31(5):649-62. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-313x.2002.01385.x.


Kranz anatomy, with its separation of elements of the C4 pathway between two cells, has been an accepted criterion for function of C4 photosynthesis in terrestrial plants. However, Bienertia cycloptera (Chenopodiaceae), which grows in salty depressions of Central Asian semi-deserts, has unusual chlorenchyma, lacks Kranz anatomy, but has photosynthetic features of C4 plants. Its photosynthetic response to varying CO2 and O2 is typical of C4 plants having Kranz anatomy. Lack of night-time CO2 fixation indicates it is not acquiring carbon by Crassulacean acid metabolism. This species exhibits an independent, novel solution to function of the C4 mechanism through spatial compartmentation of dimorphic chloroplasts, other organelles and photosynthetic enzymes in distinct positions within a single chlorenchyma cell. The chlorenchyma cells have a large, spherical central cytoplasmic compartment interconnected by cytoplasmic channels through the vacuole to the peripheral cytoplasm. This compartment is filled with mitochondria and granal chloroplasts, while the peripheral cytoplasm apparently lacks mitochondria and has grana-deficient chloroplasts. Immunolocalization studies show enzymes compartmentalized selectively in the CC compartment, including Rubisco in chloroplasts, and NAD-malic enzyme and glycine decarboxylase in mitochondria, whereas pyruvate, Pi dikinase of the C4 cycle is localized selectively in peripheral chloroplasts. Phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase, a cytosolic C4 cycle enzyme, is enriched in the peripheral cytoplasm. Our results show Bienertia utilizes strict compartmentation of organelles and enzymes within a single cell to effectively mimic the spatial separation of Kranz anatomy, allowing it to function as a C4 plant having suppressed photorespiration; this raises interesting questions about evolution of C4 mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Blotting, Western
  • Carbon / metabolism*
  • Carbon Dioxide / pharmacology
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Carbon Radioisotopes
  • Cell Compartmentation / physiology
  • Cell Respiration / physiology
  • Chenopodiaceae / classification
  • Chenopodiaceae / cytology
  • Chenopodiaceae / physiology*
  • Chloroplasts / ultrastructure
  • Cytoplasm / ultrastructure
  • Glycine Dehydrogenase (Decarboxylating)
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Malate Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxylase / metabolism
  • Photosynthesis / drug effects
  • Photosynthesis / physiology*
  • Pyruvate, Orthophosphate Dikinase / metabolism
  • Ribulose-Bisphosphate Carboxylase / metabolism
  • Vacuoles / ultrastructure


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Carbon Radioisotopes
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Carbon
  • Malate Dehydrogenase
  • malate dehydrogenase-(oxaloacetate-decarboxylating) (NAD+)
  • Amino Acid Oxidoreductases
  • Glycine Dehydrogenase (Decarboxylating)
  • Pyruvate, Orthophosphate Dikinase
  • Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxylase
  • Ribulose-Bisphosphate Carboxylase