The automated confocal micro-extensometer (ACME)--developed by a team of researchers in Europe and the US--allows scientists to measure spatial variation in the mechanical properties of plant cells with unprecedented accuracy.
Plant cell growth is limited by the mechanical properties of the surrounding cell wall.
Cell walls in the growing parts of a plant are thought to be much more extensible (stretchy) than those in mature parts, and these local differences in cell wall extensibility affect the overall shape of the plant.
The device, which is mounted on a microscope, is controlled by software that allows the user to specify the duration and degree of stretching.
The authors named the device ACME after the fictitious corporation featured in the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons, because they were inspired by the tireless efforts of Wile E. Coyote.
"Thankfully, in the end, we were more successful, but some of our prototypes were less elegant and involved a lot of scotch tape," jokes Sarah.