Bryophytes as experimental models for the study of environmental stress tolerance: Tortula ruralis and desiccation-tolerance in mosses
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- Oliver, M.J., Velten, J. & Wood, A.J. Plant Ecology (2000) 151: 73. doi:10.1023/A:1026598724487
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The development of a complete understanding of how plants interact with the environment at the cellular level is a crucial step in advancing our ability to unravel the complexities of plant ecology particularly with regard to the role that many of the less complex plants (i.e., algae, lichens, and bryophytes) play in plant communities and in establishing areas for colonization by their more complex brothers. One of the main barriers to the advancement of this area of plant biology has been the paucity of simple and appropriate experimental models that would enable the researcher to biochemically and genetically dissect the response of less complex plants to environmental stress. A number of bryophytes model systems have been developed and they have been powerful experimental tools for the elucidation of complex biological processes in plants. Recently there has been a resurgent interest in bryophytes as models systems due to the discovery and development of homologous recombination technologies in the moss Physcomitrella patens (Hedw.) Brach & Schimp. In this report we introduce the desiccation-tolerant moss Tortula ruralis (Hedw.) Gaert., Meyer, and Scherb, as a model for stress tolerance mechanisms that offers a great deal of promise for advancing our efforts to understand how plants respond to and survive the severest of stressful environments. T. ruralis, a species native to Northern and Western North America, has been the most intensely studied of all bryophytes with respect to its physiological, biochemical, and cellular responses, to the severest of water stresses, desiccation. It is our hope that the research conducted using this bryophyte will lay the foundationfor not only the ecology of bryophytes and other less complex plants but also for the role of desiccation-tolerance in the evolution of land plants and the determination of mechanisms by which plant cells can withstand environmental insults. We will focus the discussion on the research we and others have conducted in an effort to understand the ability of T. ruralis to withstand the complete loss of free water from the protoplasm of its cells.