Mechanical properties of epidermal cells of whole living roots of Arabidopsis thaliana: an atomic force microscopy study

Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2012 Feb;85(2 Pt 1):021916. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevE.85.021916. Epub 2012 Feb 21.


The knowledge of mechanical properties of root cell walls is vital to understand how these properties interact with relevant genetic and physiological processes to bring about growth. Expansion of cell walls is an essential component of growth, and the regulation of cell wall expansion is one of the ways in which the mechanics of growth is controlled, managed and directed. In this study, the inherent surface mechanical properties of living Arabidopsis thaliana whole-root epidermal cells were studied at the nanoscale using the technique of atomic force microscopy (AFM). A novel methodology was successfully developed to adapt AFM to live plant roots. Force-Indentation (F-I) experiments were conducted to investigate the mechanical properties along the length of the root. F-I curves for epidermal cells of roots were also generated by varying turgor pressure. The F-I curves displayed a variety of features due to the heterogeneity of the surface. Hysteresis is observed. Application of conventional models to living biological systems such as cell walls in nanometer regimes tends to increase error margins to a large extent. Hence information from the F-I curves were used in a preliminary semiquantitative analysis to infer material properties and calculate two parameters. The work done in the loading and unloading phases (hysteresis) of the force measurements were determined separately and were expressed in terms of "Index of Plasticity" (η), which characterized the elasticity properties of roots as a viscoelastic response. Scaling approaches were used to find the ratio of hardness to reduced modulus (H/E(*)).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / cytology*
  • Arabidopsis / physiology*
  • Compressive Strength / physiology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Elastic Modulus / physiology
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Models, Biological*
  • Plant Epidermis / cytology*
  • Plant Epidermis / physiology*
  • Plant Roots / cytology*
  • Plant Roots / physiology*
  • Tensile Strength / physiology