Study of Plasmolysis

Our Objective

To demonstrate plasmolysis in peels of Rhoeo plant in hypotonic and hypertonic solutions using salt solution.

The Theory

What is plasmolysis?

Plasmolysis is the process of shrinkage or contraction of the protoplasm of a plant cell as a result of loss of water from the cell. Plasmolysis is one of the results of osmosis and occurs very rarely in nature, but it happens in some extreme conditions. We can induce plasmolysis in the laboratory by immersing living cell in a strong salt solution or sugar solution to lose water from the cell. Normally people use Rheo or Tradescantia plant epidermal cell for experiment because they have coloured cell sap which can be clearly visible.

Let’s see how water passes through cell membranes

The cell membrane is a semipermeable membrane that separates the interior of all cells from the surrounding environment. The semipermeable membrane allows some particles, ions, or water molecules across the membrane, but blocks others. Water molecules constantly move inside and outside the cell across cell membranes. This free flow of water has the very important consequence of enabling cells to absorb water.

Plasmolysis and deplasmolysis

When a plant cell is immersed in concentrated salt solution (hypertonic solution), water from the cell sap moves out due to exosmosis. Exosmosis is the passage of water from higher water concentration to lower water concentration through a semipermeable membrane.

When a plant cell is placed in concentrated salt solution, water concentration inside the cell is greater than that which is outside the cell. Therefore, water moves through the cell membrane into the surrounding medium. Ultimately the protoplasm separate from the cell wall and assumes spherical shape. It is called plasmolysis.

When a plasmolysed cell is placed in a hypotonic solution, (i.e., the solution having solute concentration lower than the cell sap), the water moves into the cell because of the higher concentration of water outside the cell than in the cell.  The cell then swells to become turgid.  It is called deplasmolysis.

If we place living cells in isotonic solution (i.e., both solutions have the same amount of solute concentration), there is no net flow of water towards the inside or outside. Here, the water moves in and out of the cell and is in equilibrium, so the cells are said to be flaccid.

Demonstration of plasmolysis and deplasmolysis in peels of the Rheo plant.

Learning outcomes

  • Students understand the concepts of plasmolysis and deplasmolysis.
  • Students understand the cause for plasmolysis.
  • Students will be able to do the experiment more accurately in the real lab once they understand the steps through the animation and simulation.