Grasses exploit geometry to achieve improved guard cell dynamics.

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Stomata are controllable micropores formed between two adjacent guard cells (GCs) that regulate gas flow across the plant surface.1 Grasses, among the most successful organisms on the planet and the main food crops for humanity, have GCs flanked by specialized lateral subsidiary cells (SCs).2,3,4 SCs improve performance by acting as a local pool of ions and metabolites to drive changes in turgor pressure within the GCs that open/close the stomatal pore.4,5,6,7,8 The 4-celled complex also involves distinctive changes in geometry, having dumbbell-shaped GCs compared with typical kidney-shaped stomata.2,4,9 However, the degree to which this distinctive geometry contributes to improved stomatal performance, and the underlying mechanism, remains unclear. To address this question, we created a finite element method (FEM) model of a grass stomatal complex that successfully captures experimentally observed pore opening/closure. Exploration of the model, including in silico and experimental mutant analyses, supports the importance of a reciprocal pressure system between GCs and SCs for effective stomatal function, with SCs functioning as springs to restrain lateral GC movement. Our results show that SCs are not essential but lead to a more responsive system. In addition, we show that GC wall anisotropy is not required for grass stomatal function (in contrast to kidney-shaped GCs10) but that a relatively thick GC rod region is needed to enhance pore opening. Our results demonstrate that a specific cellular geometry and associated mechanical properties are required for the effective functioning of grass stomata.