Polar paths of diffusion across plant cuticles: new evidence for an old hypothesis.Ann Bot 2005; 95(7):1069-73AB
The plant cuticle is an extracellular lipophilic biopolymer covering leaf and fruit surfaces. Its main function is the protection of land-living plants from uncontrolled water loss. In the past, the permeability of the cuticle to water and to non-ionic lipophilic molecules (pesticides, herbicides and other xenobiotics) was studied intensively, whereas cuticular penetration of polar ionic compounds was rarely investigated.
Recent work measuring cuticular penetration of inorganic and organic ions is presented; the effects of molecular size of ions, temperature, wax extraction, humidity and plasticizers strongly support the conclusion that ions penetrate cuticles via water-filled pores. The cuticle covering stomata and trichomes forms the preferential site of ion penetration. This indicates that cuticles possess a pronounced lateral heterogeneity: the largest fraction of the cuticle surface is covered by the lipophilic domains of cutin and wax, but to a certain extent polar domains are also present in the cuticle, which form preferential sites of penetration for polar compounds.
The chemical nature of these polar domains awaits detailed characterization, which will be of major importance in agriculture and green biotechnology, since polar paths of diffusion represent the most important transport routes for foliar-applied nutrients. Furthermore, many compounds acting as inducers of gene expression in transgenic plants are ionic and need to penetrate the cuticle via polar paths in order to be active.