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Short-distance transport refers to transport that occurs over a distance of just 2-3 cells, crossing the plasma membrane in the process. Small uncharged molecules, such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water, can diffuse across the plasma membrane on their own. In contrast, ions and larger molecules require the assistance of transport proteins due to their charge or size. Transport across membranes also occurs within individual cells, playing a variety of essential roles for the plant as a whole.

Resources are transported into and out of the central vacuole within each plant cell

One of the roles of the large central vacuole of a plant cell is the storage of resources. Active and passive transport proteins are found in the vacuolar membrane, or tonoplast, just as they are found in the plasma membrane of the cell, and they regulate the movement of solutes between the cytoplasm and vacuole. Sugar can be stored for later, ions are sequestered from the cytoplasm, and protons, in particular, are pumped into the vacuole, creating an acidic environment for breaking down unwanted or toxic substances that enter the cell.

Movement across the tonoplast controls turgor pressure

In addition to its role in storage, the vacuole generates turgor pressure - a force that pushes the plasma membrane against the cell wall - contributing to the structure of the plant. The size of the vacuole is regulated by the movement of solutes across the tonoplast by channels and transporters. Water diffuses passively across the tonoplast to balance out a difference in solute concentration across the membrane, and it can also move more rapidly through aquaporins, water channels that can open and close in response to cellular signals. Under drought conditions, a lack of water will result in a loss of turgor pressure within individual cells as the vacuole shrinks. On a macroscopic level, the plant will appear wilted when turgor pressure is low.

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