Background and Aims Myxospermy is a term which describes the ability of a seed to produce mucilage upon hydration. The mucilage is mainly comprised of plant cell-wall polysaccharides which are deposited during development of those cells that comprise the seed coat (testa). Myxospermy is more prevalent among those plant species adapted to surviving on arid sandy soils, though its significance in determining the ecological fitness of plants is unclear. In this study, the first mathematical model of myxospermous seed mucilage expansion is presented based on seeds of the model plant species Capsella bursa-pastoris (shepherd's purse).
Methods The structures underpinning the expansion process were described using light, electron and time-lapse confocal micrographs. The data and experimental observations were used to create a mathematical model of myxospermous seed mucilage expansion based on diffusion equations.
Key Results The mucilage expansion was rapid, taking 5 s, during which the cell mucilage volume increased 75-fold. At the level of the seed, this represented a 6-fold increase in seed volume and a 2.5-fold increase in seed surface area. These increases were shown to be a function of water uptake (16 g water g(-1) mucilage dry weight), and relaxation of the polymers which comprised the mucilage. In addition, the osmotic pressure of the seed mucilage, estimated by assessing the mucilage expansion of seeds hydrated in solutions of varying osmotic pressure, was -0.54 MPa (equivalent to 0.11 M or 6.6 g L-1 NaCl).
Conclusions The results showed that the mucilage may be characterized as hydrogel and seed-mucilage expansion may be modelled using the diffusion equation described. The potential of myxospermous seeds to affect the ecological services provided by soil is discussed briefly.