A team of Australian and US scientists has demonstrated how three-dimensional (3D) imaging can reproduce the inner reality of the leaf, including the dynamic carbon and water exchange processes.

Professor John Evans, a Chief Investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis, based at the Research School of Biology at The Australian National University, said although leaves and plant cells are three dimensional, plant biologists use highly simplified 1D or 2D models, evading the difficult, confounding and beautiful 3D reality.

But the field of plant science is now in the process of being profoundly transformed by new imaging and modelling technologies that are allowing scientists to peer inside the leaf with a clarity and resolution inconceivable a generation ago. The researchers predict that using a collaborative approach, they will be able to answer, within the next decade, outstanding questions about how the 3D special arrangement of organelles, cells and tissues affects photosynthesis and transpiration.

The international team of researchers included ARC Future Fellowship recipient, Professor Margaret Barbour from The University of Sydney.

The leaf is an amazingly complex landscape, where water and gases flow in many directions depending on variables such as temperature, light quality and wind. 3D images can give researchers an unprecedented understanding of what is really happening.

Image (top): Leaf.
Credit: The Australian Research Council.
Image (bottom): Internal structure of a piece of sunflower leaf with veins in blue, airspace and plant cells.
Credit: Dr Mason Earles.