Whole-Plant Physiology: Synergistic Emergence Rather Than Modularity

  • Ulrich LüttgeEmail author
Part of the Progress in Botany book series (BOTANY, volume 74)


Work on “whole-plant physiology” which culminated in the 1970s and 1980s is reviewed. With its major issues, such as root–shoot interaction in nitrogen and sulfur assimilation, phloem–xylem transfers and circulation of matter in the whole plant, and hydraulic signaling of water relations, this older work shows integration in plants as unitary organisms. It has essential messages for progress with a holistic view on “systems biology”. The huge amounts of data of molecular cell biology of plants (“omics”) are often considered as modules. The discussion of signaling, such as electric, hydraulic, and chemical signaling, helps to advance to an understanding of integration and of emergence in contrast to modularity. Source–sink relations and root–shoot interactions in the performance of the whole plant in its environment are elaborated as examples for emergence from the coordination of parts. Timely systems biology must develop a whole-plant view by following systemic interactions comprehending all relevant spatio-temporal scales.


Phalaris Canariensis Sulfur Assimilation Modular Organism Sink Relation Hydraulic Signal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I very much thank two anonymous reviewers. Their assessments of the essay are now reflected in the wording of the Introduction and Conclusions. Circumstances do not allow quoting them, and this can only be done anonymously here.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyTechnical University of DarmstadtDarmstadtGermany

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