Maximum CO2 diffusion inside leaves is limited by the scaling of cell size and genome size


Maintaining high rates of photosynthesis in leaves requires efficient movement of CO2 from the atmosphere to the chloroplasts inside the leaf where it is converted into sugar. Throughout the evolution of vascular plants, CO2 diffusion across the leaf surface was maximized by reducing the sizes of the guard cells that form stomatal pores in the leaf epidermis. Once inside the leaf, CO2 must diffuse through the intercellular airspace and into the mesophyll cells where photosynthesis occurs. However, the diffusive interface defined by the mesophyll cells and the airspace and its coordinated evolution with other leaf traits are not well described. Here we show that among vascular plants variation in the total amount of mesophyll surface area per unit mesophyll volume is driven primarily by cell size, the lower limit of which is defined by genome size. The higher surface area enabled by smaller cells allows for more efficient CO2 diffusion into photosynthetic mesophyll cells. Our results demonstrate that genome downsizing among the flowering plants6 was critical to restructuring the entire pathway of CO2 diffusion, facilitating high rates of CO2 supply to the leaf mesophyll cells despite declining atmospheric CO2 levels during the Cretaceous.

The full article is available at the bioRXiv website at https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.01.16.904458v1?rss=1

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