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Mechanism of plasmodesmata formation in characean algae in relation to evolution of intercellular communication in higher plants


It is generally accepted that higher plants evolved from ancestral forms of the modern charophytes. For this reason, we chose the characean alga, Chara corallina Klein ex Willd., em. R.D.W. (C. australis R. Br.), to determine whether this transition species produces plasmodesmata in a manner analogous to higher plants. As with higher plants and unlike most green algae, Chara utilizes a phragmoplast for cell division; however, in contrast with the situation in both lower and higher vascular plants, the developing cell plate and newly formed cell wall were found to be completely free of plasmodesmata. Only when the daughter cells had separated completely were plasmodesmata formed across the division wall. Presumably, highly localized activity of wall-degrading (or loosening) enzymes inserted into the plasma membrane play a central role in this process. In general appearance characean plasmodesmata are similar to those of higher plants with the notable exception that they lack an appressed endoplasmic reticulum. Further secondary modifications in plasmodesmal structure were found to occur as a function of cell development, giving rise to highly branched plasmodesmata in mature cell walls. These findings are discussed in terms of the evolution of the mechanism for plasmodesmata formation in algae and higher plants.

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Correspondence to William J. Lucas.

Additional information

This work was supported in part by National Foundation grant No. DCB-9016756 (W.J.L.). We thank the Electron Microscopy Center of Washington State University and the Zoology Department, University of California, Davis, for the use of their microscopy facilities.

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Franceschi, V.R., Ding, B. & Lucas, W.J. Mechanism of plasmodesmata formation in characean algae in relation to evolution of intercellular communication in higher plants. Planta 192, 347–358 (1994).

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Key words

  • Cell wall
  • Chara
  • Phragmoplast
  • Plasma membrane
  • Plasmodesmata