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Cell wall elasticity in a young Arabidopsis thaliana seedling, as determined by Atomic Force Microscopy; methods for AFM-based cell mechanical assessment were pioneered in our group. 

As a group, we focus a large effort on understanding how shapes are generated during plant development. This entails detailing the process of shape generation, describing the changes in cell wall mechanics and chemistry that accompany shape generation, and dissecting the underlying molecular control mechanisms for these changes. We are also interested in the relationship between cell walls and development in algae, with a major focus on brown algae.

Ongoing research questions:

  1. Growing ‘Up’: How is directional growth in seedlings achieved?
  2. Making waves: How does epidermal cell undulation arise?
  3. What’s gel got to go with it: Comparative cell wall mechanics in plants and algae

Epidermal cell shape in a maize leaf,  imaged by confocal microscopy after staining for the cell wall using propidium iodide.

Onion epidermal cells exposed after mechanical separation. Scanning electron micrograph.

Onion epidermal cells exposed after mechanical separation. Scanning electron micrograph.

We are also actively involved in understanding how the material properties of the cell wall, a biological composite material, contribute to its ability to control plant development.
In order to really understand what is happening in development, we need to get a grasp on how the cell wall behaves as a material, what components and structures contribute to which behaviours, and how these behaviours affect physical processes such as extension, new material deposition, and diffusion.

Ongoing research questions:

  1. Who are you: how do specific wall components relate to mechanics?
  2. What are you: What new tools can help us understand wall mechanics better?
  3. What good is a gel: developing plant-based materials for mammalian cell culture

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