Specialized tissues in plant roots have evolved to capture water, minerals, and some ions from the soil. Roots exhibit a variety of branching patterns that facilitate this process. The outermost root cells have specialized structures called root hairs that increase the root surface, thus increasing soil contact. Water can passively cross into roots, as the concentration of water in the soil is higher than that of the root tissue. Minerals, in contrast, are actively transported into root cells.
Soil has a negative charge, so positive ions tend to remain attached to soil particles. To circumvent this, roots pump carbon dioxide into the soil, which spontaneously breaks down, releasing positively charged protons (H+) into the soil. These protons displace soil-associated positively charged ions that are available to be pumped into the root tissue, a process called cation exchange. Negatively charged anions exploit the tendency of H+ ions to diffuse down their concentration gradient and back into root cells using co-transport: ions like Cl- are cotransported into the root tissue in association with H+ ions.
Molecules can travel into the core of the root tissue, called the stele, by two routes. Apoplastic transport is the movement of molecules in the spaces created between the continuous cell walls of neighboring cells and their corresponding membranes. In contrast, symplastic transport is the movement of molecules through the cytoplasm of plant cells, which utilizes cellular junctions called plasmodesmata, which allow the free cytoplasmic passage of molecules between adjacent cells. In order to enter the stele, molecules must move into the symplast, as Casparian strips located in the root's endodermis prevent passage of solutes in the apoplast from entering the stele. Therefore, in order to enter into the symplast, solutes must pass through a cell's semipermeable membrane, protecting cells from toxic or unwanted molecules from the soil.
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