Growth and tension in explosive fruit.

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Exploding seed pods of the common weed Cardamine hirsuta have the remarkable ability to launch seeds far from the plant. The energy for this explosion comes from tension that builds up in the fruit valves. Above a critical threshold, the fruit fractures along its dehiscence zone and the two valves coil explosively, ejecting the seeds. A common mechanism to generate tension is drying, causing tissues to shrink. However, this does not happen in C. hirsuta fruit. Instead, tension is produced by active contraction of growing exocarp cells in the outer layer of the fruit valves. Exactly how growth causes the exocarp tissue to contract and generate pulling force is unknown. Here we show that the reorientation of microtubules in the exocarp cell cortex changes the orientation of cellulose microfibrils in the cell wall and the consequent cellular growth pattern. We used mechanical modeling to show how tension emerges through growth due to the highly anisotropic orientation of load-bearing cellulose microfibrils and their effect on cell shape. By explicitly defining the cell wall as multi-layered in our model, we discovered that a cross-lamellate pattern of cellulose microfibrils further enhances the developing tension in growing cells. Therefore, the interplay of cell wall properties with turgor-driven growth enables the fruit exocarp to generate sufficient tension to power explosive seed dispersal.