Homage to a nanotubule…

Image: Frank Boumphrey/Wikimedia Commons.
Image: Frank Boumphrey/Wikimedia Commons.

Frequently, journals will devote a whole issue to a particular theme, maybe even to a single species (even whole journals are seemingly devoted to Arabidopsis thaliana…). But rarely will they be devoted to a single journal article. Well, such is the power of ‘Ledbetter and Porter (1963)’ that the July 2013 issue of the Plant Journal pays due homage to that seminal publication.

Why does L&B ’63 deserve this honour? Simply stated, that rather modest paper, entitled ‘A “microtubule” in plant cell fine structure’, virtually single-handedly initiated a whole new area of plant cell biology research – the role of the cytoskeleton, particularly in connection with cell wall formation. Its trend-setting and iconic status can largely be traced back to some of the most influential ‘throw-away’ comments ever penned, such as, ‘It is noted that the cortical tubules are in a favored position to… exert an influence over the disposition of cell wall materials. In this regard it may be of some significance that the tubules just beneath the surface of the protoplast mirror the orientation of the cellulose microfibrils of the adjacent cell walls’ (from the article’s abstract).

Nowadays, after a further half-century of study, elements of the plant cytoskeletonespecially tubulin-constructed microtubles, actin-based microfilaments, and cytoskeleton-associated proteins – have been implicated in many aspects of plant cell biology and continue to provide fruitful areas of investigation. Many dimensions of those new and emerging microtubule-rooted areas of study are covered in the issue’s 12 review articles. And with titles such as ‘The role of the cytoskeleton and associated proteins in determination of the plant cell division plane’, ‘Microtubules and biotic interactions’, ‘Microtubules in viral replication and transport’, ‘Microtubules, signalling and abiotic stress’ and ‘Cytoskeleton-dependent endomembrane organization in plant cells: an emerging role for microtubules’, you begin to appreciate the true nature of the debt owed to that original Ledbetter and Porter article. But the best bit of all this? Each of the dozen review articles and the Editorial by Peter Hepler, Jeremy Pickett-Heaps and Brian Gunning are all… FREE(!). What a great teaching resource! Thank you, Plant Journal.

[A question for those who know more about such things than I: why are microtubules still permitted to be called microtubules, whilst microfilaments are almost overwhelmingly termed actin filaments in modern scientific literature…? Is it because the corresponding term ‘tubulin tubules’ would seem slightly silly? If so – and for consistency (surely, an admirable scientific principle?) – why don’t we go back to those simpler times of microtubules and microfilaments? – Ed.]