The remarkable conservation of molecular and intra-/inter-cellular pathways underpinning the fundamental aspects of sugar partitioning in two evolutionarily divergent organisms – a non-vascular moss Physcomitrella patens and a vascular cereal crop Oryza sativa (rice) – forms the basis of this manuscript. Much of our current knowledge pertaining to sugar partitioning in plants mainly comes from studies in thale cress, Arabidopsis thaliana, but how photosynthetic sugar is loaded into the phloem in a crop as important as rice is still debated. Even less is known about the mechanistic aspects of sugar movement in mosses. In plants, sugar either moves passively via intercellular channels called plasmodesmata, or through the cell wall spaces in an energy-consuming process. As such, I first investigated the structure of plasmodesmata in rice leaf minor vein using electron tomography to create as of yet unreported 3D models of these channels in both simple and branched conformations. Contrary to generally held belief, I report two different 3D morphotypes of simple plasmodesmata in rice. Furthermore, the complementary body of evidence in arabidopsis implicates plasma membrane localized Proton Pyrophosphatase (H+-PPase) in the energy-dependent movement of sugar. Within this wider purview, I studied the in situ ultrastructural localization patterns of H+-PPase orthologs in high-pressure frozen tissues of rice and physcomitrella. Were H+-PPases neo-functionalized in the vascular tissues of higher plants? Or are there evolutionarily conserved roles of this protein that transcend the phylogenetic diversity of land plants? I show that H+-PPases are distinctly expressed in the actively growing regions of both rice and physcomitrella. As expected, H+-PPases were also localized in the vascular tissues of rice. But surprisingly, H+-PPase orthologs were also prominently expressed at the gametophyte-sporophyte junction of physcomitrella. Upon immunogold labeling, H+-PPases were found to be predominantly localized at the plasma membrane of the phloem complexes of rice source leaves, and both the vacuoles and plasma membrane of the transfer cells in the physcomitrella haustorium, linking H+-PPases in active sucrose loading in both plants. As such, these findings suggest that the localization and presumably the function of H+-PPases are conserved throughout the evolutionary history of land plants.
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