Repetitive hygroscopic snapping movements in awns of wild oats

Tom Lindtner, Avihai Yosef Uzan, Michaela Eder, Benny Bar-On, Rivka Elbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Wild oat (Avena sterilis) is a very common annual plant species. Successful seed dispersion support its wide distribution in Africa, Asia and Europe. The seed dispersal units are made of two elongated stiff awns that are attached to a pointy compartment containing two seeds. The awns bend and twist with changes in humidity, pushing the seeds along and into the soil. The present work reveals the material structure of the awns, and models their functionality as two-link robotic arms. Based on nano-to-micro structure analyses the bending and twisting hygroscopic movements are explained. The coordinated movements of two sister awns attached to one dispersal unit were followed. Our work shows that sister awns intersect typically twice every wetting-drying cycle. Once the awns cross each other, epidermal silica hairs are suggested to lock subsequent movements, resulting in stress accumulation. Sudden release of the interlocked awns induces jumps of the dispersal unit and changes in its movement direction. Our findings propose a new role to epidermis silica hairs and a new facet of wild oat seed dispersion. Reversible jumping mechanism in multiple-awn seed dispersal units may serve as a blueprint for reversibly jumping robotic systems. Statement of significance: The seed dispersal unit of wild oats carries two elongated stiff awns covered by unidirectional silica hairs. The awns bend and twist with changes in humidity, pushing the seed capsule along and into the ground. We studied structures constructing the movement mechanism and modeled the awn as a two-link robotic arm. We show that sister awns, attached to the same seed capsule, intersect twice every drying cycle. Once the awns cross each other, the epidermal silica hairs are suggested to lock any subsequent movements, causing stress accumulation. Sudden release of the interlocked awns may cause the dispersal unit to jump and change its direction. Our findings suggest a new role to silica hairs and a new dispersal mechanism in multiple-awn seed dispersal units.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)483-492
Number of pages10
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Volume135
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2021

Keywords

  • Avena sterilis
  • Awns
  • Cellulose microfibrils
  • Hygroscopically active movement
  • Robotic arm
  • Seed dispersal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Molecular Biology

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