A mechanism for the formation of lamellar systems in the plant cell has been proposed as a result of electron microscope observations of young and mature cells of Nitella cristata and the plastids of Zea mays in normal plants, developing plants, and certain mutant types. The results are compatible with the concept that lamellar structures arise by the fusion or coalescence of small vesicular elements, giving rise initially to closed double membrane Structures (cisternae). In the chloroplasts of Zea, the cisternae subsequently undergo structural transformations to give rise to a compound layer structure already described for the individual chloroplast lamellae.
During normal development, the minute vesicles in the young chloroplast are aggregated into one or more dense granular bodies (prolamellar bodies) which often appear crystalline. Lamellae grow out from these bodies. In fully etiolated leaves lamellae are absent and the prolamellar bodies become quite large, presumably because of inhibition of the fusion step which appears to require chlorophyll. Lamellae develop rapidly on exposure of the plant to light, and subsequent development closely parallels that seen under normal conditions. The plastids of white and very pale green mutants of Zea similarly lack lamellae and contain only vesicular elements. A specialized peripheral zone immediately below the double limiting membrane in Zea chloroplasts appears to be responsible for the production of vesicles. These may be immediately converted to lamellae under normal conditions, but accumulate to form a prolamellar body if lamellar formation is prevented, as in the case of etiolation and chlorophyll-deficient mutation, or when the rate of lamellar formation is slower than that of the production of precursor material (as appears to be the case in the early stages of normal development).