Plasmodesmata and the problems with size: interpreting the confusion

Winfried S. Peters, Kaare H. Jensen, Howard A. Stone, Michael Knoblauch*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewResearchpeer-review

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Plant tissues exhibit a symplasmic organization; the individual protoplasts are connected to their neighbors via cytoplasmic bridges that extend through pores in the cell walls. These bridges may have diameters of a micrometer or more, as in the sieve pores of the phloem, but in most cell types they are smaller. Historically, botanists referred to cytoplasmic bridges of all sizes as plasmodesmata. The meaning of the term began to shift when the transmission electron microscope (TEM) became the preferred tool for studying these structures. Today, a plasmodesma is widely understood to be a ‘nano-scale’ pore. Unfortunately, our understanding of these nanoscopic channels suffers from methodological limitations. This is exemplified by the fact that state-of-the-art EM techniques appear to reveal plasmodesmal pore structures that are much smaller than the tracer molecules known to diffuse through these pores. In general, transport processes in pores that have dimensions in the size range of the transported molecules are governed by different physical parameters than transport process in the macroscopic realm. This can lead to unexpected effects, as experience in nanofluidic technologies demonstrates. Our discussion of problems of size in plasmodesma research leads us to conclude that the field will benefit from technomimetic reasoning – the utilization of concepts developed in applied nanofluidics for the interpretation of biological systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number153341
JournalJournal of Plant Physiology
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Jan Knoblauch for providing the fluorescence micrograph in our Fig. 1I. This work was supported by grant NSF 1656769 to M.K.


  • Cell Theory
  • Electron Microscopy
  • Microfluidics
  • Nanofluidics
  • Plasmodesma
  • Symplasm


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