The new ability to predict the internal anatomy of leaves from their thickness can give clues to the function of the leaf, because leaf thickness affects both the overall photosynthetic rate and the lifespan, said Sack.
"A minor difference in thickness tells us more about the layout inside the leaf than a much more dramatic difference in leaf area," John said.
The design of the leaf provides insights into how larger structures can be constructed without losing function or stability.
"Fundamental discoveries like these highlight the elegant solutions evolved by natural systems," Sack said. "Plant anatomy often has been perceived as boring. Quantitative discoveries like these prove how exciting this science can be. We need to start re-establishing skill sets in this type of fundamental science to extract practical lessons from the mysteries of nature.
"There are so many properties of leaves we cannot yet imitate synthetically," he added. "Leaves are providing us with the blueprints for bigger, better things. We just have to look close enough to read them."
The new allometric equations are an important step toward understanding the design of leaves on a cellular basis, John said. And because leaves are so diverse, she said, there is much to learn. In future research, the group will study species that are very closely related in an effort to uncover any evolutionary relationships between leaf design and function.
"What makes the cross-sections especially exciting is the huge variation from one species to the next," John said. "Some have relatively enormous cells in certain tissues, and cell shapes vary from cylindrical to star-shaped. Each species is beautiful i
|Contact: Stuart Wolpert|
University of California - Los Angeles