Long distance water and nutrient transport in plants is dependent on the proper functioning of xylem networks, a series of interconnected pipe-like cells that are vulnerable to hydraulic dysfunction as a result of drought-induced embolism and/or xylem-dwelling pathogens. Here, flow in xylem vessels was modeled to determine the role of vessel connectivity by using three dimensional xylem networks derived from High Resolution Computed Tomography (HRCT) images of grapevine (Vitis vinifera cv. 'Chardonnay') stems. Flow in 4-27% of the vessel segments (i.e. any section of vessel elements between connection points associated with intervessel pits) was found to be oriented in the direction opposite to the bulk flow under normal transpiration conditions. In order for the flow in a segment to be in the reverse direction, specific requirements were determined for the location of connections, distribution of vessel endings, diameters of the connected vessels, and the conductivity of the connections. Increasing connectivity and decreasing vessel length yielded increasing numbers of reverse flow segments until a maximum value was reached, after which more interconnected networks and smaller average vessel lengths yielded a decrease in the number of reverse flow segments. Xylem vessel relays also encouraged the formation of reverse flow segments. Based on the calculated flow rates in the xylem network, the downward spread of Xylella fastidiosa bacteria in grape stems was modeled, and reverse flow was shown to be an additional mechanism for the movement of bacteria to the trunk of grapevine.
Keywords: Computed tomography; Fluid mechanics; Modeling; Vitis vinifera; Xylella fastidiosa.
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