The structure of the phloem – still more questions than answers




Long-distance assimilate distribution in higher plants takes place in the enucleate sieve-tube system of the phloem. It is generally accepted that flow of assimilates is driven by an osmotically generated pressure differential, as proposed by Ernst Münch more than 80 years ago. In the period between 1960 and 1980, the pressure flow hypothesis was challenged when electron microscopic images suggested that sieve tubes contain obstructions that would prevent passive flow. This led to the proposal of alternative translocation mechanisms. However, most investigators came to the conclusion that obstructions in the sieve-tube path were due to preparation artifacts. New developments in bioimaging have vastly enhanced our ability to study the phloem. Unexpectedly, in vivo studies challenge the pressure-flow hypothesis once again. In this review we summarize current investigations of phloem structure and function and discuss their impact on our understanding of long-distance transport in the phloem.