How mechanical and biological processes are coordinated across cells, tissues, and organs to produce complex traits is a key question in biology. Cardamine hirsuta, a relative of Arabidopsis thaliana, uses an explosive mechanism to disperse its seeds. We show that this trait evolved through morphomechanical innovations at different spatial scales. At the organ scale, tension within the fruit wall generates the elastic energy required for explosion. This tension is produced by differential contraction of fruit wall tissues through an active mechanism involving turgor pressure, cell geometry and wall properties of the epidermis. Explosive release of this tension is controlled at the cellular scale by asymmetric lignin deposition within endocarp b cells – a striking pattern that is strictly associated with explosive pod shatter across the Brassicaceae plant family. By bridging these different scales, we present an integrated mechanism for explosive seed dispersal that links evolutionary novelty with complex trait innovation.
Hofhuis H, Moulton D, Lessinnes T, Routier-Kierzkowska A, Bomphrey RJ, Mosca G, Reinhardt H, Sarchet P, Gan X, Tsiantis M, Ventikos Y, Walker S, Goriely A, Smith R, Hay A. (2016) Morphomechanical innovation drives explosive seed dispersal. Cell 166, 1-12.