Unique lignin modifications pattern the nucleation of silica in sorghum endodermis

Nerya Zexer, Rivka Elbaum*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Silicon dioxide in the form of hydrated silica is a component of plant tissues that can constitute several percent by dry weight in certain taxa. Nonetheless, the mechanism of plant silica formation is mostly unknown. Silicon (Si) is taken up from the soil by roots in the form of monosilicic acid molecules. The silicic acid is carried in the xylem and subsequently polymerizes in target sites to silica. In roots of sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), silica aggregates form in an orderly pattern along the inner tangential cell walls of endodermis cells. Using Raman microspectroscopy, autofluorescence, and scanning electron microscopy, we investigated the structure and composition of developing aggregates in roots of sorghum seedlings. Putative silica aggregation loci were identified in roots grown under Si starvation. These micrometer-scale spots were constructed of tightly packed modified lignin, and nucleated trace concentrations of silicic acid. Substantial variation in cell wall autofluorescence between Si+ and Si- roots demonstrated the impact of Si on cell wall chemistry. We propose that in Si- roots, the modified lignin cross-linked into the cell wall and lost its ability to nucleate silica. In Si+ roots, silica polymerized on the modified lignin and altered its structure. Our work demonstrates a high degree of control over lignin and silica deposition in cell walls.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)6818-6829
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Botany
Issue number21
StatePublished - 2 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Experimental Biology.


  • Endodermis
  • Sorghum bicolor
  • lignin
  • root
  • silica
  • silicic acid
  • silicon


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