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Characterization of Silicon Accumulation in Maize Cell Suspension Cultures

  • Hagit Nissan
  • Shula Blum
  • Eyal Shimoni
  • Rivka Elbaum
Original Paper



Silicon (Si) is an abundant element in the earth’s crust and is available to plants as silicic acid. Silicon uptake by plants is correlated with increased tolerance to various biotic and abiotic stresses. However, cellular mechanisms responsible for its beneficial effects are still unknown. Even its cellular import mechanisms are not well understood. We thus aimed to characterize silicon localization within minimally differentiated Zea mays (Black Mexican Sweet) cells in suspension.


Cells were grown in a medium containing silicon, and the mRNA levels of silicon transporters were measured by real-time PCR. Cells were separated into an insoluble (mainly walls and starch) and a cytoplasmic fraction. Soluble and total silicon was measured by inductively-coupled-plasma – atomic-emission-spectroscopy. Silicon distribution was assessed by transmission electron microscopy. The cell walls were analyzed chemically, and by Raman micro-spectroscopy and thermal gravimetric analysis.


Silicon treatment reduced the levels of silicon transporters transcripts, without affecting cell proliferation. About 70 % of the silicon was localized in the cytoplasm, mostly in vesicles. We found indications that silicon affected the secondary structure of proteins and thermally stabilized starch. Silicon was loosely bound, and diffused out of the cells within 24 hours.


Our results show that silicon binds spontaneously to cell walls/starch and accumulates in cytoplasm vesicles. These processes allow the cells to accumulate silicon against its concentration gradient in solution. However, cellular intake acts against reversible diffusion processes, probably through the aquaporin silicon channels (Lsi1, Lsi6) that exchange the cellular silicon with the surrounding medium.


Silicon Cell suspension Black Mexican Sweet (BMS) Thermal gravimetric analysis (TGA) Raman microspectroscopy Cell wall 


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Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hagit Nissan
    • 1
  • Shula Blum
    • 1
  • Eyal Shimoni
    • 2
  • Rivka Elbaum
    • 1
  1. 1.The Robert H. Smith Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in AgricultureThe Hebrew University of JerusalemRehovotIsrael
  2. 2.Department of Chemical Research SupportWeizmann Institute of ScienceRehovotIsrael

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