Cell proliferation and plant development under novel altered gravity environments



Gravity is a key factor for life on Earth. It is the only environmental factor that has remained constant throughout evolution, and plants use it to modulate important physiological activities; gravity removal or alteration produces substantial changes in essential functions. For root gravitropism, gravity is sensed in specialised cells, which are capable of detecting magnitudes of the g vector lower than 10−3. Then, the mechanosignal is transduced to upper zones of the root, resulting in changes in the lateral distribution of auxin and in the rate of auxin polar transport. Gravity alteration has consequences for cell growth and proliferation rates in root meristems, which are the basis of the developmental programme of a plant, in which regulation via auxin is involved. The effect is disruption of meristematic competence, i.e. the strict coordination between cell proliferation and growth, which characterises meristematic cells. This effect can be related to changes in the transport and distribution of auxin throughout the root. However, similar effects of gravity alteration have been found in plant cell cultures in vitro, in which neither specialised structures for gravity sensing and signal transduction, nor apparent gravitropism have been described. We postulate that gravity resistance, a general mechanism of cellular origin for developing rigid structures in plants capable of resisting the gravity force, could also be responsible for the changes in cell growth and proliferation parameters detected in non-specialised cells. The mechanisms of gravitropism and graviresistance are complementary, the first being mostly sensitive to the direction of the gravity vector, and the second to its magnitude. At a global molecular level, the consequence of gravity alteration is that the genome should be finely tuned to counteract a type of stress that plants have never encountered before throughout evolution. Multigene families and redundant genes present an advantage in that they can experience changes without the risk of being deleterious and, for this reason, they should play a key role in the response to gravitational stress.