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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

New insight into silica deposition in horsetail (Equisetum arvense)

Chinnoi Law and Christopher Exley*

Author Affiliations

The Birchall Centre, Lennard-Jones Laboratories, Keele University, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG, UK

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BMC Plant Biology 2011, 11:112  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-11-112

Published: 29 July 2011



The horsetails (Equisetum sp) are known biosilicifiers though the mechanism underlying silica deposition in these plants remains largely unknown. Tissue extracts from horsetails grown hydroponically and also collected from the wild were acid-digested in a microwave oven and their silica 'skeletons' visualised using the fluor, PDMPO, and fluorescence microscopy.


Silica deposits were observed in all plant regions from the rhizome through to the stem, leaf and spores. Numerous structures were silicified including cell walls, cell plates, plasmodesmata, and guard cells and stomata at varying stages of differentiation. All of the major sites of silica deposition in horsetail mimicked sites and structures where the hemicellulose, callose is known to be found and these serendipitous observations of the coincidence of silica and callose raised the possibility that callose might be templating silica deposition in horsetail. Hydroponic culture of horsetail in the absence of silicic acid resulted in normal healthy plants which, following acid digestion, showed no deposition of silica anywhere in their tissues. To test the hypothesis that callose might be templating silica deposition in horsetail commercially available callose was mixed with undersaturated and saturated solutions of silicic acid and the formation of silica was demonstrated by fluorimetry and fluorescence microscopy.


The initiation of silica formation by callose is the first example whereby any biomolecule has been shown to induce, as compared to catalyse, the formation of silica in an undersaturated solution of silicic acid. This novel discovery allowed us to speculate that callose and its associated biochemical machinery could be a missing link in our understanding of biosilicification.

Biosilicification; biogenic silica; silicic acid; horsetails; callose; PDMPO; fluorescence; acid digestion.