Scientists discover how plants breathe

A team of scientists from the University of Sheffield has produced a new study, published in Nature Communications, which shows “how plants breathe,” that is how they manage to provide a constant flow of air to every cell.

The presence of so-called stomata, tiny pores on the leaves and stems of plants, had already been discovered by botanists during the 19th century. These pores form a network of very complex air channels and therefore it was always difficult to understand how the flow of carbon dioxide could propagate to every cell of the plant.

Researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield think they understand this complex system using genetic manipulation techniques. Scientists have discovered that the greater the number of stomata on a leaf, the more air space the leaf itself can form. This means that these small pores are like the bronchioles, the passages that allow the area to propagate in the lungs.

And it is the very movement of air through the leaves that shapes the structure of these pores and their internal functioning, something new with regard to the evolution of plants. Among other things, in understanding this, researchers have also discovered that over the course of generations humans have cultivated wheat plants that had fewer and fewer pores on the leaves and therefore fewer channels to let the air pass.

This artificial routing of the evolution of wheat plants unknowingly provoked by human beings, in fact, makes the leaves denser allowing among other things to the same plant to be able to grow with a smaller quantity of water.