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Plant Cells and Water

Chapter 1 (pp 1-17)

Assessment criteria
Describe the role of hydrogen bonds in the
unique physical and chemical properties of water.
Analyse the biological importance of water by
referring to the unique properties of water.
Explain the mechanisms of water transport by
comparing diffusion and osmosis and analysing
the effect of water potential on water transport.
State the role of aquaporins in facilitating cellular
water movement.

The roles for which water is

uniquely suited.
Thermal properties
The thermal properties of water ensures that
it is in the liquid state over the range of
temperatures at which most biological
reactions occur.
Most reactions can occur only in an
aqueous medium.
Contribute to temperature regulation.

Solvent properties
Suitable medium for the uptake and distribution
of mineral nutrients and other solutes required
for growth.
Water in itself is either a reactant or a product
in a large number of reactions.
The transparency of water allows light to
penetrate for photosynthesis or control

The uptake of water by cells generates a
pressure known as turgor.
Plants must maintain cell turgor in order to
remain erect.
The uptake of water by cells is also the
driving force for cell enlargement.

Properties of water
Water consist of an oxygen atom
covalently bonded to two hydrogen
Tendency to attract

Polar molecule that forms hydrogen bonds.

Separation of charges
creates a strong
attraction (electrical)
between adjacent water
molecules or between
water and other polar

Layers of
tightly bound
and highly
oriented water

Hydration shells
around Proteins
Nucleic acid

Bound water
aggregates that
can lead to

Thermal properties of water are

biologically important
Thermal capacity of water
Specific heat
Specific heat is the thermal capacity of a
substance or the amount of energy that can
be absorbed for a given temperature rise.
Specific heat of water is 4.184Jg -1C-1

Thermal conductivity
Rapidly conducts heat away from point of

Water exhibits a high heat of

fusion and heat of vaporization
The energy required to covert a substance from
the solid to the liquid state is known as heat
The heat of fusion of water is one of the highest
known, second only to ammonia.
The high heat of fusion of water is attributable to
the large amount of energy necessary to
overcome the strong intermolecular forces
associated with hydrogen bonding.

The density of ice is another important

Water, unlike other substances, reaches
its maximum density in the liquid state
(near 4C), rather than as a solid.
This occurs because molecules in the
liquid state are able to pack more tightly
than in the highly ordered crystalline state
of ice.

Hydrogen bonding increases the amount

of energy required to melt ice and also
increases the energy required to
evaporate water.
The heat of vaporisation of water requires
energy that is absorbed from its
The heat of vaporisation accounts for the
pronounced cooling effect associated with

Water is the universal solvent

Water has the ability to partially neutralise
electrical attractions between charged solute
molecules or ions by surrounding the ion or
molecule with one or more layers of oriented
water molecules, called a hydration shell.
Hydration shells encourage solvation by
reducing the probability that ions can recombine
and form crystal structures.

Dielectric constant
The polarity of molecules can be measured by a
quantity known as the dielectric constant.
Water has one of the highest dielectric
constants. Therefore excellent solvent for
charged ions or molecules.
Charged solutes important to plants, but do not
readily cross cellular membranes due to the low
dielectric constants of nonpolar molecules.

Polarity of water molecules

results in cohesion and
The strong mutual attraction between water
molecules resulting from hydrogen bonding is
also known as cohesion.
One consequence of cohesion is that water has
an exceptionally high surface tension.
Surface tension is the reason water drops tend
to be spherical or that water surface will support
the weight of small insects.

Cohesion is directly responsible for the

high tensile strength of water. Tensile
strength is the maximum tension that an
uninterrupted column of any material can
withstand without breaking.
The same forces that attract water
molecules to each other will also attract
water to solid surfaces, a process known
as adhesion. Adhesion is important in
capillary rise of water in small-diameter

Water movement may be

governed by diffusion or by bulk
The movement of water is passive
process, but is indirectly dependent upon
metabolic energy.
Passive movement of water can be
accounted for by bulk flow or diffusion.

Bulk flow is driven by

hydrostatic pressure
Bulk flow occurs when an external force,
such as gravity or pressure is applied. As
a result all of the molecules of the
substance move in a mass.
Bulk flow also accounts for some water
movement in plants.

Ficks first law describes the

process of diffusion
Diffusion is a directed movement from a
region of a high concentration to a region
of lower concentration.
Bulk flow= pressure driven
Diffusion= driven by concentration
Ficks first law: F = -D.A.C.l-1

Ficks first law: F = -D.A.C.l


F is the flux or amount of material crossing a unit

area per unit time.
D is the diffusion coefficient, the medium
through which the diffusing molecule travels.
A cross-sectional area
L length of the diffusion path
C is the concentration gradient (difference in
- sign, diffusion is toward lower concentration


What would
happen if the
dotted line
was a

There is no
change in
volume in either

Free movement of
solvent (water)
Restricted movement of
solute molecules

change in

Plant cells contain an array of

selectively permeable
Can you think of any?

Osmosis in plant cells is

indirectly energy dependent
w=w* + RT ln Xw
Increasing the solute concentration in an
aqueous solution decreases the mole
fraction of water in the solution.
As the mole fraction of water decreases, the
chemical potential and hence the molar
free energy of water decreases.

Plant cells control the movement of water in and

out of cells by altering the solute concentration of
the cytosol relative to the solution external to the
Root cells take up nitrate ions NO3 from the soil
by active transport to create a NO3 gradient
across the cell membrane.
The uptake of NO3 ions is an active transport
process and requires an input of energy.
This decreases the mole fraction of water in the
cytosol compared to the soil. Water will diffuse

Activity 1
Use the diagram to
explain why osmosis is,
indirectly, an energy
dependent process in

The chemical potential of water

has an osmotic as well as a
pressure component



Diffusion will continue

until the force tending to
drive water into the tube
by the force generated
by the hydrostatic head
or the applied pressure.

The chemical potential of water may also

be influenced by electrical potential and
gravitational field.
In spite of its strong dipole nature, the net
electrical charge for water is zero and so
the electrical term can be ignored.
Where water movement involves heights
of 5 to 10 metres or less, the gravitational
term is commonly omitted.

Hydrostatic pressure and

osmotic pressure are two
components of water potential
Water potential is proportional to w - w*
and can be defined as = P- .
P is the hydrostatic pressure and is the
osmotic pressure.
The value for pure water is zero.

Water potential is the sum of its

component potentials
= p + s
p pressure potential ( identical to P and
represents the hydrostatic pressure)
s osmotic potential equal to osmotic
pressure also called the solute potential.
Third component matric potential (M), is a
result of the absorption of water to solid

The osmotic potential of most plant cells is

due primarily to the contents of the large
central vacuole.
Cell vacuoles contain on the order of 50 to
80 percent of the cellular water.
Most of the remaining cellular water is
located in the cell wall spaces, while the
cytoplasm accounts for as little as 5 to

In a laboratory pressure (p) can be

estimated as the difference between
atmospheric pressure and the hydrostatic
pressure generated by the height of the
water column.
The pressure component arises from the
force exerted outwardly against the cell
walls by the expanding protoplast. This is
known as turgor pressure.

An equal but opposite inward pressure,

called wall pressure, is exerted by the cell
A cell experiencing turgor pressure is said
to be turgid.
A cell that experiences water loss to the
point where turgor pressure is reduced to
zero is said to be flaccid.

Dynamic flux of H2O is

associated with changes in
water potential
Incipient plasmolysis is the condition in
which the protoplast just fill the cell
volume. Turgor pressure is zero and the
water potential is equal to osmotic

Hypotonic solution: Water will enter the cell

as it moves down the water potential
gradient. Net movement of water into the
cell will cease when the osmotic potential
of the cell is balanced by its turgor
pressure and the water potential of the cell
is zero.
Hypertonic: More negative than the cell
and favours loss of water from the cell. The
protoplast then shrinks away from the cell
wall, a condition known as plasmolysis.

Plasmolysis vs Wilting
Plasmolysis can be studied in the
laboratory simply by subjecting tissues to
hypertonic solutions and observing
protoplast volume changes under the
microscope. Protoplast that pulls away
from the cell wall leaves a void that is filled
with external solution. Plasmolysis
therefore does not give rise to negative

Wilting is the response to dehydration in

air under natural conditions. Because of
surface tension, water in the small pores
of the cell wall resists the entry of air and
the collapsing protoplast maintains contact
with the cell wall. This tends to pull the
wall inward and substantial negative
pressure may develop.

Aquaporins facilitate the cellular

movement of water
Porins are a class of membrane proteins that
belong to a large family of proteins called major
intrinsic proteins (MIPs) that are found in the cell
Porin-type channels are nonselective cation
In plants porins are generally restricted to the
outer membranes of mitochondria and

Aquaporins are membrane protein

channels or pores controlling the selective
movement of water primarily.
The presence of aquaporins do not affect
the electrical conductance of a membrane
which indicates that small ions such as H +
are not conducted by these membrane


The hydrophobic amino acids are

on the outer side of the pore and
interact with the hydrophobic fatty
acids of the lipid bilayer whereas
the hydrophilic amino acids are in
the inner side of the pore and
interact with water molecules as
they move through the pore from
one side of the membrane to the

Gating is the term used to describe this

regulated opening and closing of these
protein channels. Gating through PIPs can
be controlled by cytoplasmic pH, the
concentration of divalent cations such as
Ca2+ as well as by aquaporin protein
The presence of aquaporins provides a
low resistance pathway for the movement
of water across a membrane.

Since aquaporins are gated, this provides

greater control for the movement of water.
The permeability of the tonoplast is two
orders of magnitude greater that of the
plasma membrane. Thus, this allows the
vacuole to replenish or buffer the
cytoplasm with water when the cell is
exposed to hypertonic conditions.
Aquaporins are important in regulating the
osmotic properties of plant cells. This
process is called OSMOREGULATION.

Two-component sensing/signalling
systems are involved in osmoregulation

Use the diagram to

explain step-by-step
the two-component
sensory signalling of
the enzyme histidine