Crystal-like structures in vacuoles, precipitates in the cytoplasm and on the tonoplast membrane have been found to store remarkable amounts of Si in a number of higher plants. In most of the cases the final storage product is a SiO2 gel. Accumulation inside the cells presumes a membrane and cytoplasm passage, driven by unknown transporters. Beside this uptake into the cytoplasm, Si-accumulating species possess a mechanism that does not involve a membrane and cytoplasm passage. Unusual small invaginations comprising the two membranes, plasmalemma and tonoplast, which enclose a small border of cytoplasm, were observed. The same cells contained vacuolar vesicles surrounded by two membranes, obviously derived from the invaginations. By energy-dispersive X-ray analysis and electron spectroscopic imaging, Si was shown in the invaginations and vacuolar vesicles. This novel endocytotic process allows the uptake of condensed, higher-molecular-weight Si compounds. In Zn hyperaccumulators, frequently SiO2 precipitates were found in different cell compartments. Such plants showed the same invaginations and vacuolar vesicles, but Zn, colocalized with Si, was detected in these structures. Electron energy loss spectra confirmed the assumption that Zn-silicate is present in the vesicles. In the vacuoles the unstable Zn-silicate is degraded, forming SiO2 precipitates, while the released Zn is bound to an unknown partner.
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