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Nutation in plants

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This chapter aims to explore and describe the physiological aspects of oscillating growth patterns in rapidly elongating plant organs, such as roots, hypocotyls, shoots, branches and flower stalks. After a brief description of the phenomena, the theories and models proposed to explain circumnutation are reported, focusing largely on the internal oscillator model and the gravitropic overshoot model. The former is derived from the intuition of Charles Darwin, the first to suggest that circumnutatory movements are mediated by an endogenous oscillator, i.e. the driving and regulating apparatus responsible for circumnutation is internal. By contrast, the latter theory proposes a gravity-dependent model to account for circumnutations, essentially consistent with the Cholodny-Went theory, thus interpreting oscillations as being a continuous series of over-compensatory responses of the plant to the changing orientation of its gravisensory apparatus relative to the Earth’s gravity vector. A revised two-oscillator model is also reported, which is based on a combination of the above-mentioned two models. In this combined model, circumnutational movement involves a gravitropic reaction acting as an externally driven feedback oscillator, together with an endogenous or intrinsic oscillator which sends a rhythmic signal to the feedback system. The role of hormones will be finally discussed, with particular attention to the effect of ethylene in controlling nutation.




Mugnai, S., Azzarello, E., Masi, E., Pandolfi, C., & Mancuso, S. (2015). Nutation in plants. In Rhythms in Plants: Dynamic Responses in a Dynamic Environment (pp. 19–34). Springer International Publishing.

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