Background and Aims
The capacity of a plant to absorb and transport water and nutrients depends on anatomical structures within the roots and their co-ordination. However, most descriptions of root anatomical structure are limited to 2-D cross-sections, providing little information on 3-D spatial relationships and hardly anything on their temporal evolution. Three-dimensional reconstruction and visualization of root anatomical structures can illustrate spatial co-ordination among cells and tissues and provide new insights and understanding of the interrelation between structure and function.
Classical paraffin serial-section methods, image processing, computer-aided 3-D reconstruction and 3-D visualization techniques were combined to analyse spatial relationships among metaxylem vessels, passage cells and lateral roots in nodal roots of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum).
3-D reconstruction demonstrated that metaxylem vessels were neither parallel, nor did they run directly along the root axis from the root base to the root tip; rather they underwent substitution and transition. Most vessels were connected to pre-existent or newly formed vessels by pits on their lateral walls. The spatial distributions of both passage cells and lateral roots exhibited similar position-dependent patterns. In the transverse plane, the passage cells occurred opposite the poles of the protoxylem and the lateral roots opposite those of the protophloem. Along the axis of a young root segment, the passage cells were arranged in short and discontinuous longitudinal files, thus as the tissues mature, the sequence in which the passage cells lose their transport function is not basipetal. In older segments, passage cells decreased drastically in number and coexisted with lateral roots. The spatial distribution of lateral roots was similar to that of the passage cells, mirroring their similar functions as lateral pathways for water and nutrient transport to the stele.
With the 3-D reconstruction and visualization techniques developed here, the spatial relationships between vessels, passage cells and lateral roots and the temporal evolution of these relationships can be described. The technique helps to illustrate synchronization and spatial co-ordination among the root's radial and axial pathways for water and nutrient transport and the interdependence of structure and function in the root.