© Frachisse Jean-Marie et Tran Daniel, Institut de biologie intégrative de la cellule (CNRS/Université Paris-Saclay).

In plants, channels set the rhythm


Although plants are anchored to the ground, they spend most of their lifetime swinging in the wind. Like animals, plants have ‘molecular switches’ on the surface of their cells that transduce a mechanical signal into an electrical one in milliseconds. In animals, sound vibrations activate ‘molecular switches’ located in the ear. Scientists from the CNRS, INRAE, Ecole Polytechnique, Université Paris-Saclay and Université Clermont-Auvergne1 have found that in plants, rapid oscillations of stems and leaves due to wind may activate these ‘switches’ very effectively. They could allow plants to ‘listen’ to the wind. This is a key advantage in preparing them for storms, by modulating their growth. This work was published in PNAS on December 28, 2020.

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Plants are endowed with mechanosensitive channels such as MSL that transduce mechanical oscillations into electrical signals.  In static condition, the cell membrane of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana is hardly solicited, and the MSL10 ‘switch’ shows little activity (left-hand side). When the membrane is subjected to an oscillatory pressure mimicking the effect of the wind, the switch becomes more active (oscillation, right-hand side). This is shown schematically on the diagram in the bottom right of the figure.
© Jean-Marie Frachisse and Daniel Tran, Institut de Biologie Integrative de la Cellule (CNRS/Université Paris-Saclay).


  • 1At the Institut de Biologie Intégrative de la Cellule (CNRS/Université Paris-Saclay), the Laboratoire d'Hydrodynamique (CNRS/Ecole Polytechnique), the Laboratoire de Mécanique des Solides (CNRS/Ecole Polytechnique) and the Laboratoire Physique et Physiologie Intégrative de l'Arbre en Environnement Fluctuant (INRAE/Université Clermont Auvergne).

Cellular transduction of mechanical oscillations in plants by the plasma-membrane mechanosensitive channel MSL10. Daniel Tran, Tiffanie Girault, Marjorie Guichard, Sébastien Thomine, Nathalie Leblanc-Fournier, Bruno Moulia, Emmanuel de Langre, Jean-Marc Allain, Jean-Marie Frachisse. PNAS, 28 December 2020. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1919402118


Jean-Marie Frachisse
CNRS Researcher (Electrophysiology of mechanosensitive channels)
Jean-Marc Allain
Ecole Polytechnique researcher (Channel modelling)
Bruno Moulia
Inrae researcher (Plants vibration)
Alexiane Agullo
CNRS press officer