Gas flow in plant microfluidic networks controlled by capillary valves

Abstract : The xylem vessels of trees constitute a model natural microfluidic system. In this work, we have studied the mechanism of air flow in the Populus xylem. The vessel microstructure was characterized by optical microscopy, transmission electronic microscopy (TEM), and atomic force microscopy (AFM) at different length scales. The xylem vessels have length approximate to 15 cm and diameter approximate to 20 mu m. Flow from one vessel to the next occurs through similar to 10(2) pits, which are grouped together at the ends of the vessels. The pits contain a thin, porous pit membrane with a thickness of 310 nm. We have measured the Young's moduli of the vessel wall and of the pits (both water-saturated and after drying) by specific nanoindentation and nanoflexion experiments with AFM. We found that both the dried and water-saturated pit membranes have Young's modulus around 0.4 MPa, in agreement with values obtained by micromolding of pits deformed by an applied pressure difference. Air injection experiments reveal that air flows through the xylem vessels when the differential pressure across a sample is larger than a critical value Delta P-c = 1.8 MPa. In order to model the air flow rate for Delta P >= Delta P-c, we assumed the pit membrane to be a porous medium that is strained by the applied pressure difference. Water menisci in the pit pores play the role of capillary valves, which open at Delta P = Delta P-c. From the point of view of the plant physiology, this work presents a basic understanding of the physics of bordered pits.
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Marie Capron, Philippe Tordjeman, François Charru, Eric Badel, Hervé Cochard. Gas flow in plant microfluidic networks controlled by capillary valves. Physical Review E : Statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics, American Physical Society, 2014, 89 (3), ⟨10.1103/PhysRevE.89.033019⟩. ⟨hal-01189937⟩

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