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posted on 2018-03-14, 04:13 authored by Viktoriya Coneva, Daniel H. Chitwood

Leaf thickness is a quantitative trait that is associated with the ability of plants to occupy dry, high irradiance environments. Despite its importance, leaf thickness has been difficult to measure reproducibly, which has impeded progress in understanding its genetic basis, and the associated anatomical mechanisms that pattern it. Here, we used a custom-built dual confocal profilometer device to measure leaf thickness in the Arabidopsis Ler × Cvi recombinant inbred line population and found statistical support for four quantitative trait loci (QTL) associated with this trait. We used publically available data for a suite of traits relating to flowering time and growth responses to light quality and show that three of the four leaf thickness QTL coincide with QTL for at least one of these traits. Using time course photography, we quantified the relative growth rate and the pace of rosette leaf initiation in the Ler and Cvi ecotypes. We found that Cvi rosettes grow slower than Ler, both in terms of the rate of leaf initiation and the overall rate of biomass accumulation. Collectively, these data suggest that leaf thickness is tightly linked with physiological status and may present a tradeoff between the ability to withstand stress and rapid vegetative growth. To understand the anatomical basis of leaf thickness, we compared cross-sections of Cvi and Ler leaves and show that Cvi palisade mesophyll cells elongate anisotropically contributing to leaf thickness. Flow cytometry of whole leaves show that endopolyploidy accompanies thicker leaves in Cvi. Overall, our data suggest that mechanistically, an altered schedule of cellular events affecting endopolyploidy and increasing palisade mesophyll cell length contribute to increase of leaf thickness in Cvi. Ultimately, knowledge of the genetic basis and developmental trajectory leaf thickness will inform the mechanisms by which natural selection acts to produce variation in this adaptive trait.