Flowers arise from the flanks of the shoot apical meristem, a mass of undifferentiated stem cells at the tip of the growing plant. Young flower buds become organised into four concentric whorls of tissue that give rise to invariant numbers of sepals, petals, stamens and carpels. Extensive genetic studies have identified several genes with important functions in regulating flower development. It is known that the so-called floral identity genes act first to differentiate the presumptive floral meristem from the cells of the shoot meristem. This is followed by the organ identity genes that function combinatorial to establish the whorls of cells, within which the floral organs then arise.
While a lot is known about the events leading up to the establishment of organ identity, much less is understood about the mechanisms used to carve those organs out of each whorl. The goal of this project is to understand the genetic and cellular events that lead to the partitioning of the first two whorls into sepals and petals. To this end, we will use fluorescent reporter genes and live imaging with confocal microscopy to characterise the cellular dynamics and differentiation events in the wildtype meristem. We will use this data to build a dynamic virtual model of the developing meristem.
Next we will study changes in cellular behaviour in meristems where development has been experimentally perturbed and compare those data to the wild type. This will provide both a comprehensive understanding of the processes involved in establishing floral architecture as well as a flexible model that can be expanded and customised to the needs of any other group. The project is inter-disciplinary, as it involves biological experimentation as well as mathematical and computer modelling. I t is also societally relevant, as it could have major agronomic implications for fruit size, seed numbers etc. and provide information regarding dynamics of stem cell populations.
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