Ball Tonometry: A Rapid, Nondestructive Method for Measuring Cell Turgor Pressure in Thin-Walled Plant Cells


In this article we describe a new method for the determination of turgor pressures in living plant cells. Based on the treatment of growing plant cells as thin-walled pressure vessels, we find that pressures can be accurately determined by observing and measuring the area of the contact patch formed when a spherical glass probe is lowered onto the cell surface with a known force. Within the limits we have described, we can show that the load (determined by precalibration of the device) divided by the projected area of the contact patch (determined by video microscopy) provides a direct, rapid, and accurate measure of the internal turgor pressure of the cell. We demonstrate, by parallel measurements with the pressure probe, that our method yields pressure data that are consistent with those from the pressure probe. Also, by incubating target tissues in stepped concentrations of mannitol to incrementally reduce the turgor pressure, we show that the pressures measured by tonometry accurately reflect the predicted changes from the osmotic potential of the bathing medium. The advantages of this new method over the pressure probe are considerable, however, in that we can move rapidly from cell to cell, taking measurements every 20 s. In addition, the nondestructive nature of the method means that we can return to the same cell repeatedly for periodic pressure measurements. The limitations of the method lie in the fact that it is suitable only for superficial cells that are directly accessible to the probe and to cells that are relatively thin walled and not heavily decorated with surface features. It is also not suitable for measuring pressures in flaccid cells.

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Correspondence to Philip M. Lintilhac.

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Received 11 January, 2000; accepted 3 February 2000

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Lintilhac, P., Wei, C., Tanguay, J. et al. Ball Tonometry: A Rapid, Nondestructive Method for Measuring Cell Turgor Pressure in Thin-Walled Plant Cells. J Plant Growth Regul 19, 90–97 (2000).

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  • Key words: Turgor pressure; Plant growth; Tonometry; Pressure probe; Osmotic pressure; Allium cepa L.; Phaseolus vulgaris L.