Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology

Using the short-lived isotope 11C in mechanistic studies of photosynthate transport

Peter E. H. Minchin and Michael R. Thorpe

Functional Plant Biology 30(8) 831 - 841
Published: 22 August 2003


Tracer techniques have been central in studies of transport in plants. In the case of carbon, the only readily available radioactive tracer has been 14C, although 11C was used for a short time before 14C could be made. Tracers have usually had to be measured by destructive harvesting of the plant, giving a practical limit to the data resolution in both time and space. A major advantage of the short-lived, positron-emitting tracers, of which 11C is one example, is that in vivo measurement is possible, giving detailed time series of tracer data in many locations and opening up powerful new techniques of data analysis. Medical applications of these isotopes have utilised both dynamic imaging and time courses of uptake or washout. Unfortunately, few plant biology laboratories have realised the potential of these techniques, possibly because of the large physics infrastructure needed. In this paper we review the concepts behind the use of these short-lived tracers in plant physiology, and illustrate with several cases where 11C was an essential tool.

Keywords: carbon-11, modelling, phloem translocation, source– sink interactions.

© CSIRO 2003

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