Localized growth and remodeling drives spongy mesophyll morphogenesis


The spongy mesophyll is a complex, porous tissue found in plant leaves that enables carbon capture and provides mechanical stability. Unlike many other biological tissues, which remain confluent throughout development, the spongy mesophyll must develop from an initially confluent tissue into a tortuous network of cells with a large proportion of intercellular airspace. How the airspace in the spongy mesophyll develops while the tissue remains mechanically stable is unknown. Here, we use computer simulations of deformable polygons to develop a purely mechanical model for the development of the spongy mesophyll tissue. By stipulating that cell wall growth and remodelling occurs only near void space, our computational model is able to recapitulate spongy mesophyll development observed in Arabidopsis thaliana leaves. We find that robust generation of pore space in the spongy mesophyll requires a balance of cell growth, adhesion, stiffness and tissue pressure to ensure cell networks become porous yet maintain mechanical stability. The success of this mechanical model of morphogenesis suggests that simple physical principles can coordinate and drive the development of complex plant tissues like the spongy mesophyll.

Journal of the Royal Society Interface